Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell | Part 12

The emergency room was in absolute chaos.

Once my ankle was tended to, I insisted someone else take my bed. Other than having a hairline fracture and a few deep gashes on my leg, I was in far better shape than anyone else.

Taking refuge in Kit’s bay of the ER, I could hear crying and frantic shouting from outside the curtain. Hundreds of others were injured and many far more grievously than we had been. Children were screaming and mothers were weeping. I wondered just how many of them would be orphans and widows by the end of the day.

The siege hadn’t ended yet. There could be more bombs. Nobody yet knew exactly what the Forge had planned. Night was coming and the darkness was only just beginning to fall on us. And ever so periodically the ground shook, telling me that another explosive had gone off somewhere in the city.

Teagan remained armed and on guard beside me, keeping a wary ear open to our surroundings. Until Mortimer arrived, we were under orders to hunker down here. Hospital security was relatively overwhelmed right now, but the bedlam provided cover for us all the same. Nobody would think to look for us here. As he got off the phone, I asked, “Well?”

“Ten major bombings; thirty-seven IEDs on the streets,” he muttered, shaking his head. “The police are unsuccessfully trying to manage the forays into downtown, but the Forge managed to take a few uptown sections entirely with their forces. They’ve got control of a sixth of the city.”

So they were gaining strength. Considering how strong the police and armed forces were in this city to begin with, that boded ill.

As if reading my thoughts, Teagan muttered, “The trouble seems to be that a large portion of the police is openly defecting and another portion suspected of sabotage. We’ve been undermined from the inside.”

Turning traitor myself seemed like a good idea. Slipping away while confusion was reigning might not be a bad move. The only reason I remained here was lying in the bed next to me.

Looking at Kit as he got a blood transfusion, his wounds bandaged as best the emergency staff could for now, I wasn’t sure what would happen to him. He was on his side to avoid putting pressure on the wounds. I did, however, release a huge sigh of relief as Teagan added, “Good news is that one of the bombs wrecked a good portion of the Tourney stadium. The competition has been put off indefinitely.”

“So where are we at then?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“They’re going to evac you, Elena and your father to a bunker,” he said grimly. “Personally, I think they should’ve done it already…“

He cut off as the curtain parted, revealing Yaron as he stepped in. Grudgingly lowering his weapon, Teagan stood down. Neither of us were relieved to see him by any means. Nor were we sure how he’d found us.

Unlike me in my current condition, Yaron stood perfectly unharmed and unruffled as he demanded, “Anna, have you been treated?”

As I nodded, he said tonelessly, “Good. We’ll be getting you out of here shortly. We’re unable to get armored vehicles through since people are going mad in the streets. As for that nuisance the Lynx, he’s finally been caught red handed. They spotted him on the security monitors just before the bomb went off.”

Alarms sounded in my mind, realizing that he was being falsely blamed for the explosions. If they blamed him, they could effectively vilify him and convince the city he was to blame for all the deaths.

“No,” I huffed out, deciding to lie to buy time until I could question him myself. Meeting Yaron’s forbidding gaze, I murmured, “He was there to stop the bomb. He tried to warn me.”

Both Teagan’s and Yaron’s gazes darkened with my words; Teagan’s with dread and Yaron’s with interest.

“He came to you?” Yaron said, studying me more closely.

“He saved me from an abduction attempt by the Forge a few nights ago,” I muttered, wringing my hands. “So I guess he felt more confident approaching me instead of security. He warned there was a bomb and he couldn’t find it. I didn’t make it out in time. He could still be trapped in the wreckage or dead. I don’t know.”

That last bit was true. He could be. When I’d found him, he’d been rummaging through the file cabinets, so I very much doubted he’d known anything about the bombs. A rational person would’ve fled the premises if they knew.

As Yaron bore down to question me, Teagan let out a curse. Looking back, I saw him looking at a television monitor visible over our bay. As he turned up the sound, reaching it easily, a whole new kind of fright filled me.

My father was holding a press conference from somewhere in the hospital, one that seemed to be on whole going disastrously. He was shouting at the press as they demanded questions. And by all indicators, he’d lost his composure completely.

“It’s the people’s fault!” he yelled back at them, waving his fist at the cameras. “If they had set the industrial quota for the quarter, this wouldn’t have happened! It’s their own laziness coming back to haunt them! And the Forge knows it, too!”

Considering a great deal of noise sounded outside the curtains, it seemed that just about everybody in the ER had heard him, too. And none of it sounded positively received.

“He’s insane,” Teagan muttered to himself, likewise hearing the volume of people escalating around us. “Citizens won’t stand for this.“

“He’s blaming the people?” I murmured, looking at Yaron as his jaw twitched. “Was this planned and scripted?”

As Yaron’s unnaturally cold eyes turned to me, I saw a whole new danger coming my way. Frighteningly inhuman fury showed plainly across his face, telling me that the answer was a resounding no. The shadow government hadn’t condoned this.

“This goes too far,” he replied, looking me over with a new objective in mind. With that said he swept back out, leaving the chill of his words behind him. And I knew damn well what it could mean.

If Father had displeased the elite overlords, there was no telling what they’d do. At best, they’d depose him. More likely, they’d kill.

The realization was only amplified as there was a deafening crash from beyond where we were. Teagan stuck his head out and quickly retracted it, drawing the curtain completely closed.

“Time has run out,” he said, turning to me. “People are forcing their way in the ER doors. I’m not waiting. We’re evacuating now.”

As I stood to move into action, Teagan coming over to support me since my ankle wasn’t completely steady, a quiet murmur made me pause. Looking back, I saw Kit’s eyes open blearily before looking around.

“Aiyla?” he called again, rapidly coming to. His eyes were dilated, likely from the pain medication.

Limping over, I stooped to his side. “I’m here. You’re safe now.”

He blinked, focusing on me with difficulty. “What is that? I hear-“

The crowds were gaining volume and trying to crack the doors in. I could hear it, too, and so could Teagan as he hovered over me. “They’re revolting. Look, I’ve got to go. Tell the Lynx that they think he planted the bomb. I covered for him, but I doubt they believed me.”

Kit’s eyes widened into alarm, losing all signs of drowsiness. “Covered? What do you mean?”

 “Said he tried to warn me of the blast-“

“No,” he moaned over me, looking terrified at the idea. “You didn’t! Tell me you didn’t! It’s too dangerous!”

Lowering myself to his level, I touched his cheek. “Doesn’t matter now. The staff will take care of you when I’m gone.”

“Heard Yaron,” he huffed out, trying to fight against whatever drugs were in his system. He tried to push himself onto one arm before sinking back down.

I nodded. “Yes, he’s coming to take me away.”

The blood drained from his face. “No. If you go with him, The Lynx won’t be able to get to you. You told him you wanted out – to be free…”

As he fought against the pain medications to speak, my mind whirled. “How did you know that?”

“Get to St. Michael’s Orphanage,” he insisted, still panicked by the idea of my going with Yaron. Struggling to move, he managed to remove a ring from his finger and placed it in my hands. “Alvin will hide you if you show this to him. Don’t go with Yaron. I know what he’ll do to you.”

His eyes practically begged me not to, but I tried to place the ring back in his hands. “I’ll never make it that far. They’ll catch me.”

“You have to try,” he begged, pushing it back to me as the beeping of his heart monitor sped up. “You’ll never get the chance again. This isn’t about me. I don’t care if you never want to see me again after this, but you’ve got to try to escape. I won’t be able to help you if you go with him.“

“We’ve got to go, Aiyla,” Teagan insisted firmly from behind me.

“Make him take you there,” Kit insisted vehemently, clutching my hand and eyeing him over my shoulder. “He cares about you. Go! I’ll be fine.”

I wasn’t sure quite what to do. Part of me was terrified by either decision, but looking into Kit’s eyes, I realized I didn’t care. The only future I saw worth living was one with him in it.

With his saving me, he hadn’t only saved my life. He’d saved my heart as well. Saved it from a slow destruction with the path I’d been on. He’d brought me back from the darkness I’d been in after Lola’s death. Kit had revived my will to fight to live.

If I didn’t try to run now, I wouldn’t have the chance again. I’d never get to be with him.

Before I could stop myself, I leaned in and kissed him softly. He leaned into my kiss; greedily stretching after me to keep the contact between us and not wanting it to end as I pulled away. Already regretting parting, I whispered, “You’d better be. I’m not letting you go that easily.”

A faint smile tugged at his lips as he pressed the ring into my palm, looking into my eyes. “I will find you. Go. Te amo, mi vida.”

That last bit flabbergasted me, confessing that he loved me and especially considering the circumstances. But judging by the look in his eyes, he meant every word despite the pain killers in his system.

His focused changed as he looked over my shoulder, ordering in a forceful tone, “Get her out of here.”

Hating tearing myself away while he was injured, I forced myself to move as Teagan took my arm. He pulled me out the back of the curtains, the both of us heading for the rear staff entrance to the ER.

I looked over my shoulder for one last glimpse of Kit but he was enshrouded from my view by the curtains around the bed, lost to me as we rounded the corner. Tears slipped down my cheeks as I limped along, trying to keep up with Teagan’s swift pace. I’d have to trust the nurses to watch over Kit now. He’d be safest here. The elites wouldn’t care about him anymore now that the Tourney was cancelled.

“We’ll get out the deliveries bay in the lower level,” Teagan muttered, keeping a wary eye on all corners as we moved along.

“Take me to St. Michael’s,” I ordered, wiping my eyes as we went and slipping Kit’s ring into my pocket for safekeeping.

“Let’s focus on getting out of here first,” he said, propelling me along by the back with the other hand keeping his weapon on the ready. “By the time the Forge is finished making a meal of this, your father’s regime won’t last through the night. Until everything cools down, we’re gonna disappear,” he said adamantly, catching me as I almost stumbled and handing me my gun. “Mortimer will cover for us. We’re not taking any chances with you.”

Without question, I accepted my weapon from him, Teagan having taken it while I was treated. I cocked it, keeping it aimed at the floor with both hands and echoing his stance as we moved along.

“If we’re separated, steal a nurse’s uniform and run,” he instructed, voice growing tenser with every step. We headed into a back stairwell, descending further into the hospital’s bowels. “Change your appearance. If they catch me, they’re going to charge me with treason for disobeying-“

“You’re following my orders. I lied and told you that my father gave me a secret emergency plan,” I said, giving him a fake cover story to use. “If it’s too much, I can go on my own.”

The look he shot me was positively scathing. “You know better than that, Aiyla. I’m with you to the end.”

Reaching the door at the bottom of the stairs, Teagan prowled ahead gun first and gestured for me to hang back while he checked out the hall. But as he retreated back a step and squared his shoulders to aim, I knew we were in deep trouble.

“Where are you two off to?” Haynesworth’s lilting voice came from around the corner, Teagan stopping dead without lowering his weapon. “Odd that you’d be sneaking off now…”

Just by his tone, I knew we were screwed. There was suspicion that we were defecting from the Hacienda. Peering around the corner, I saw three other policemen with him. They’d blocked our exit. Yaron must’ve discovered us gone and sent them after us.

“Evacuating,” Teagan replied, not relaxing from his aggressive stance. “Move.”

“That’s funny considering Yaron ordered you to wait for him,” Haynesworth replied, crossing his arms. To my dismay, I heard footsteps coming from the stairwell above us. “He sent me to look for her since she’d gone…”

As his eyes traveled over me, I had the worst thrill of foreboding. Where there once was friendship and lust, now there was nothing but disgust. That along with a great deal of malice.

“You’d better come with us,” he said as two police officers rounded the corner behind me, boxing us in. “Everyone is in the conference room waiting.”

“The building isn’t secure,” Teagan insisted, voice deepening into threatening territory. I knew exactly what he’d want me to do. He’d fire on them while I ran, sacrificing himself. He was just waiting for the opportune moment to strike.

“Says who?” Haynesworth replied coolly, gesturing with two fingers to lower our weapons. “Are you complying?”

His tone told me that we’d be shot if we resisted. Lowering my weapon, I placed a hand on Teagan’s back while slipping past him. While I knew he’d fight to protect me, all it would do is get him killed. I wouldn’t let one more person die for my sake.

His fingers twitched on the trigger as I passed him, seeing that I’d given myself up. There was no fighting it now. As he in turn lowered his gun, Haynesworth sneered, “Consider yourself fired. Get out.”

As he spoke, the two men beside him grabbed me by the arms and steered me toward the elevator at the back end of the hall. Seeing Teagan move convulsively to stop them, I shook my head.

Before I could speak, however, I cried out as he was struck from behind and knocked to the ground. The men from the stairwell streamed out behind him, weapons aimed at his back.

“Don’t hurt him!” I cried as Teagan remained still. “He was trying to do his job!“

“Not one word,” Haynesworth hissed at me, pointing at the elevator with one damning finger. “Get in.”


Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell | Part 11 – Te Amo

I could scarcely breathe. Weight pressed down onto my chest, constricting my breathing. The smell of smoke overtook my senses as did the heat, disorienting me.

With a pang, I realized that I’d been a fool. I’d attempted to open a box with a bomb in it. Not my finest moment. Having been so preoccupied, I’d missed the obvious and was lucky to be alive.

The Forge must’ve planted it to attack the club. The blast had gone off just as Kit had thrown us down. The question was what’d happened to him. Trying to move my arms to see if I could locate him, I quickly realized with alarm what was pressing me down.

My eyes flashed open as I found his body covering mine, chest to chest and his head tucked in next to my ear. He grunted as I moved, his breath ragged. “Kit?”

“Don’t move,” he muttered, sounding pained. “We’re trapped under the rubble and it could still crash down on us. Got lucky and the desk shielded us from the blast. Are you all right?”

“There’s something wet leaking, so a pipe must’ve been hit next to us,” I muttered, going still. Other than my right leg being strangely numb, everything else seemed fine. I couldn’t see whatever was on top of us. With no light, I could only assume the club had been destroyed.

“That’s not water, chica,” he choked out, voice strained.

Fear flooded through me, realizing that the liquid beneath my fingers had a sticky quality. And it was seeping down from above, over my legs. “Blood,” I whispered, realizing that he’d taken the worst of the blast to protect me. “How bad are you hurt?”

“Not mortally, but it’s no flesh wound either,” he replied, voice tightening. “Just do me a favor and keep talking. Distract me. I get claustrophobic and being boxed in is doing me no favors.”

Anything for him since he’d sacrificed himself. My hand found his near mine and I intertwined my fingers with his, unable to comfort him otherwise. “You saved me again.”

His fingers twitched in my grip. “We’re just lucky you heard the beeping or we’d be…”

I swallowed hard, though soothed by his presence. His heart was beating wildly through his chest, the rhythm quickening against my skin. “Where are you hurt?”

“Shrapnel in my back and legs. Blood loss is the danger.” As I went to call out for help, he muttered, “Don’t bother. I tried for twenty minutes while you were out. No one heard. If you’re claustrophobic, too-“

“No. Just need to get you help,” I said, slowly turning my head slightly to the side to see him. I could barely see the side of his face in the gloom. “Could the Lynx have planted the bomb? He was here.“

“No. He would never… That much I know,” he huffed out with hesitation, shuddering against me. “If he’d known, he’d have alerted security, despite having to hand himself over to do so. So you’re engaged to Yaron?”

It was my turn to stifle a shudder as he changed the subject. If he knew the news, it must’ve been circulating around the club for all to hear. “Bastard ordered I strip down so he could ‘inspect me’ before the marriage.”

A curse, one so ugly that I shivered, sounded in my ear, Kit continuing to sputter off profanities in Spanish at the mere idea. Not wanting to discuss it further, I changed the subject for a second time. “How did you get your name, Kit?”

Despite the dire state of our situation, he still giggled faintly. “When I was little, my ears and feet were too big for me, so a bully teased I looked like a caracal kit. So I took ownership of the nickname on my terms.” His head turned ever so slightly toward me as if to monitor my reaction. “And you? What was your childhood like?”

“I was always so skinny that Auntie Lola would joke I was like a skeleton,” I confessed, smiling at the memory. “When El Dia de Los Muertos would roll around every year, she’d paint my face to celebrate even though we weren’t allowed to join directly in the celebrations.”

As a child I’d watch everyone heading to the cemetery, wondering what it’d be like. Families would gather by the hundreds to honor their ancestors. The memories were like a beacon to me, leading back to a happier time. A time when I’d been happily ignorant to the suffering around me. The only time I felt loved.

I sighed heavily. “Sometimes I wonder if she was right about me, though. Maybe I am a skeleton. With the way I live my life, I certainly feel dead sometimes. Muerta.”

Dead. A skeleton of what I’d been before her death. All the joy in my life vanished along with her spirit the day of her murder. Ever since I’d felt like I had no identity or purpose. I longed to feel like I made a difference again; even just for one person. For someone to feel like I made a difference for them.

“But despite it all, you make me feel alive, too, Kit,” I admitted, echoing what he’d said the night previous. Especially with the revelation the Lynx had brought me, though I didn’t dare tell Kit that yet. “More alive than I’ve felt in years.” Silence fell as I waited for his reply. No response came. “Kit?”

With a jolt, I realized that his breathing was growing shallower. While I’d been reminiscing, he’d slipped into unconsciousness. Giving in to my panic, I screamed out, “Help! Somebody get us out of here!”

For the next few minutes, I kept screaming until my voice was hoarse. With every second, Kit slipped toward the very precipice I had been talking about: death. The sticky wetness under me was growing. And I couldn’t handle the idea of anyone else dying for me. Especially not him. I couldn’t lose him.  

If I hadn’t been pinned flat and our survival hinging on my screaming, I’d have been clinging to him and begging him to come back to me. The only sanity left to me was the fact I could feel him breathing against me. If he stopped, there was nothing I could do to resuscitate him. With me immobilized, there was no way to do CPR.

As I hit a particularly shrill pitch, I paused as I heard muffled movement from our left. The sound of voices reached my ears, telling me that help was close by.

 “Aiyla?!” Teagan’s voice roared back, the rubble shifting slightly. “Keep yelling! We’re trying to get to you. Don’t stop!”

“Kit’s here – he’s bleeding and –“

I cringed as the rubble started to move over us, expecting it to crash down further. Instead, warm light blinded me as the ruins of the metal desk toppled away, revealing Teagan. Bloodied with his clothes torn but otherwise okay, he stooped down to us.

“I’ve got her,” he yelled back to whomever else was searching.

“Kit’s-“

“We’ll get him help,” Teagan assured me, two other men in search and rescue gear coming into my view. As they carefully lifted Kit from the wreckage, my breath caught in my throat.

Kit had lied; hiding just how grievous his wounds were to keep me calm. Burns covered his whole back and glass was embedded everywhere from his neck down. Shards stuck up at odd angles; blood coagulated around the edges like mottled, burgundy stained glass.

All just to shield me.

I sat up to follow him and looked down as I felt a resistance. Once freed, I discovered why my right leg was so oddly numb. A heavy metal pole sat atop my thigh, likely having cut off circulation while I’d been unconscious. And that’d been a mercy unto itself. The ankle was swollen and bleeding, glass embedded in my calf above it.

Once Kit was in the hands of the other rescuers, Teagan stooped down to me and pried the metal pole away from my leg. As he did, the feeling flooded back into it. Gritting my teeth as the pain came to me, I reached out to him.

Ignoring my hand, he scooped me up in his arms to lift me free. “I’ve got you,” he murmured to me, carrying me with ease over the smoking and, in many cases, still burning piles of wreckage. Despite the urgency of the situation, he surprised me entirely by pressing a kiss to my forehead. There were tears in his eyes as he added, “Thank God you’re alive…”

Unable to bear the sight of the rubble and the many bodies I saw as he carried me, I kept my eyes firmly on Kit as he was transported out ahead of us. Still, my breath was robbed from my lungs as I realized that the entire club had been wrecked.

It was a miracle that I’d survived at all. Kit and I’d been insanely lucky to have been where we were. The rest of the building had collapsed, rubble exploding out and tearing into several surrounding buildings around it. We’d been under a section of the building where there was only one story. Others had been four stories high and all of it’d been brought down on those who’d been inside.

The carnage was inescapable, especially as I realized that there must’ve been multiple bombs in the building. Several of the bodies had been decimated entirely, burned beyond recognition. Others had been torn apart by the blast and others crushed.

A tremor wracked my body as I saw flashing lights and police vehicles on all sides, a news helicopter hovering overhead.

“How many?” I croaked, wrapping my arms around his neck.

“Unknown yet, but no small number. Elena got out already,” Teagan said to me, keeping his eyes on the unsteady pieces of concrete he walked over to get us clear. “As did Yaron.”

As soon as we were over the last piece and on the ground, he jogged over to the nearest ambulance. As Kit was placed on a stretcher inside, Teagan gently placed me on the adjacent bench seat in the ambulance. Space must’ve been scarce, seeing that all the other ambulances were full.

“Anna?!”

Looking up, I saw Haynesworth running toward us after getting out of a police cruiser. He was donned in riot gear, his command of officers pulling up behind him with sirens blaring. An armored SWAT team truck roared down the street behind it, coming to a halt.

He hurried to the back of the ambulance. “Get her to the hospital,” he ordered the EMTs, anger coloring his tone and he looked between me and the scene he’d just pulled up to. “We-“

Screams erupted on all sides as machine gunfire sounded, peppering the police cars with bullets. Haynesworth dove for the pavement as Teagan slammed the ambulance door shut, keeping the deadly hail out.

“Drive!” he bellowed, drawing his own weapon as the EMTs scrambled to do their jobs, the driver trying unsuccessfully to get out of the line of fire.

As a bullet pierced one of the side windows, I made the smart decision and dove for the floor. A wave of pain shrieked through my ankle, but I didn’t care as I searched for the holster I kept hidden under my dress. Before I could get to it, the ambulance screeched out of the space and zoomed for the end of the block.

“Turning into a fucking war zone out here,” one of the EMTs muttered, trying to tend to Kit as the vehicle bounced along.

“What the hell is going on?!” Teagan bellowed back, hovering over me and looking out the windows.

“This wasn’t the only location hit,” the driver called back, swerving around obstacles. “Attacks are progressing all around the city, some in the center of protest zones. People are rioting and panicking amidst it all, blocking the streets. Seems that the Forge was among the demonstrations and infiltrated them to plant bombs. Dozens of improvised weapons have gone off-”

“Shit!” Teagan roared, refusing my gun as I offered it to him. “Damn it to hell! I told them we shouldn’t leave the mansion!“

I just shook as I looked out the window, seeing bullet-riddled windows and police cars heading back the way we’d come. Water mains were blown and water was skiting toward the sky. Street by street was in shambles, people rushing about and trying to take cover.

Plain as day, I knew without asking what was going on. All I could do was hold Kit’s hand from below, trying not to give in to my fear.

The Forge had coordinated a citywide attack to begin an assault on the strongholds of the Hacienda. And they’d left the citizens of the city square in the middle, not caring who was harmed in the crossfire. From here on out, the day was only going to get worse. If they’d gotten this far, this wouldn’t be the first strike.

The city of Dejado Atras was under siege.

We were now at war.

And there was no definitive side for me to stand on.


Stay tuned ’till next week. Things are only going to get hotter from here…

God bless you and may peace reign over your heart. Dejado Atras is closer than you may think…

Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel (Copyright 2020 Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell)

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell Part 10

Dawn came earlier than I wanted. With it, however, came a scenario that I never expected. But damn was it nice.

Opening my eyes a crack, I realized I was cocooned in Kit’s arms. My head lay over his heart as he snored, the two of us sleeping on the couch. The pleasant scent of street food emanated from him, almost as if he’d absorbed the smell from sitting in a kitchen too long. Though loathe to move considering how comfy it was with his arms nestled around me, I knew better than to linger.

Gently shifting off him so he wouldn’t awaken, I couldn’t help but notice how handsome he was. He even had dimples from how much he smiled. Despite my best efforts, I’d grown fond of him. The realization hit me and plummeted in my stomach. The question now was how we would proceed. With everything I learned last night, things had grown exponentially complicated. The task now would be gathering intel on the Forge, considering nobody wanted to talk.

Heading into the bathroom to change out of the evening dress I’d slept in, I was less than thrilled to see that Ryan left a vibrantly purple hickie on my neck. I errantly wondered what it’d be like if Kit kissed me like that; if his hands had been the ones on my body.

The thought was entirely too delicious.

After splashing water on my face and giving myself a sharp reprimand for thinking such things, I headed back out to face him.

One couldn’t help but be disappointed as I discovered Kit gone and Teagan sitting where he had been; a breakfast tray beside him. As it was, his foot was jiggling as he sat, looking like a cat with an irritably twitching tail.

“Expecting someone else?” he asked acerbically. His expression soured further as I refused to broach the subject and shrugged. I was sure he knew that Kit had never made it upstairs and he severely disapproved. “I brought breakfast in to share.”

The sight of eggs and oatmeal had never been so welcomed. As I approached, he muttered while monitoring my reaction, “We need to discuss last night. We both know this won’t end well for either of you.”

That I knew. Despite Kit’s assurances, the Tourney would get him in the end. But as Teagan shoved the entire plate at me and forestalled my attempt to divvy up the plate, I muttered under my breath, “I need you to quietly gather intel on my aunt’s murder.”

The mood solidified between us as his eyes narrowed. Judging by his reaction, he was completely aware of the true murderer.

Before he could reply, however, he abruptly snatched the fork out of my hand as we both heard the clicking of heels. As Elena tottered in, I hastily picked up the hunk of grapefruit and held my tongue. A part of me that longed to demand if she knew of Auntie Lola’s true murderer, but I knew better.

Elena seeing me eat seemed to be the least of my troubles, however. As her eyes landed on my neck, she snapped out, “For Heaven’s sakes, cover that up! What will your fiancé think?!”

Fiancé? Did she mean Ryan? Teagan appeared likewise astounded, so I wasn’t the only one caught off guard. “I’m engaged?” 

Elena rummaged through her purse and pulled out a joint, not paying my trepidation any attention. “You’ve been using Haynesworth to get your quota of affection, but don’t lead him on any longer. Get yourself presentable. We’re going to the club.”

And with that, she clacked back out in her stilettos.

Teagan and I just stared at each other. Considering Elena approved of Ryan not even twenty-four hours ago, something had drastically changed. The question was who the chosen candidate was now.

“Remain armed at all times,” Teagan ordered as he stood, moving into action. “I’m not complacent about your dressing room visitor. Be aware that Haynesworth’s men recovered surveillance footage and identified the woman. She’s a well-known Forge supporter…”

So now I was suspected of colluding with her. The hint was left hanging as a warning. “Just how close is the rebellion to us?” I asked frankly, not caring if we were overheard. “Nobody will tell me.”

“They’ve been gaining traction,” he admitted, giving me a suspicious once over. “It’s a slaughter to anyone who gets involved… and on either side.”

Before I could question him further, he hoisted up his pant leg. I gulped as I saw a wicked looking scar over his ankle. “Anyone in the line of fire of the Forge is at risk. While I was in the service, I stepped on a landmine they’d left outside a building,” he said bluntly. “Now got a titanium rod holding my ankle together. This enemy will randomly strike wherever they can.

“They failed to nab you outside of the restaurant the other night, so they’ll try again,” he added, seeing my sorrow as I focused solely on his ruined foot. “Mortimer and I don’t think you should leave the mansion at all, but we’ve been overruled. As it is, Kit’s just lucky he hasn’t been spotted ‘dropping in’ and gotten shot by security patrols.”

So the Forge were the ones who tried to nab me the other evening? No wonder nobody would answer my questions about it.

He dropped his pantleg, hiding the damage from my view and prodded the plate toward me. “You need to realize how risky this is.“

“Don’t leave me alone with Ryan again,” I ordered, shuddering at the thought. “He doesn’t take a hint…”

A sound of disgruntlement came from him as his eyes lingered over the hickie. “Eat. Mortimer will have my hide if you don’t.”

Forty minutes later, I was in front of the house waiting for the limo to pull around. Teagan lingered behind me like a silent watchtower, arms impassively crossed as we waited. The both of us knew today wasn’t going to be pleasant. Supposedly I’d be meeting my future husband.

A few yards away, I was surprised to see Kit standing with the other contestants. They were coming to the club as well, likely as a perk for competing in the Tourney. I stifled a chuckle as the reality star wannabe made another crack about the outing not being anything special for her since she was already a member of the club.

“Yes, we get it. You’re wealthy,” Kit drawled loudly and massaging his head like he had a migraine, earning looks of agreement from the other competitors. None of them seemed to like her and I didn’t blame them. She was a spoiled brat. “Can’t you see we’re just seething with envy…”

As Elena stepped out of the house, I abruptly decided to head as far as possible from her proximity. Stalking past the other group, I knew Teagan was following. Coming to the edge of the drive, I peered beyond the hedge to the iron gates as I reapplied my lipstick. Seeing nothing, I almost yipped as I found that Kit had also followed along behind me. Despite Teagan glaring at him from a short distance away, he said jovially to me, “So is the lipstick for me or the gringo to ruin?”

“No. Now there’s a third gringo. Elena announced this morning that I’m engaged,” I said flatly, seeing Kit’s lazy smile disappear. As Teagan politely turned his back to us to give us space, I added, “No idea who.”

“Great. Another cream puff,” he drawled, wiggling his fingers in a taunting wave toward Elena since she’d spotted us. He blew her a kiss to top it off, seeing her flush mottled red at his sheer audacity. Despite the solemnity of our discussion last night, he’d returned to his usual flirtatious demeanor. And with gusto.

“You’re looking for trouble,” I said.

“No, I found trouble the day I laid eyes on you,” he said, squinting up at the sun as the clouds parted before shooting me a devious smile. “I rather enjoyed waking up with you this morning. What can I do to get that kind of sugar during waking hours?”

Meeting his gaze, I shot him a pointed look. “I’m more concerned with getting you out of here alive. Drop out of the Tourney. The vultures are circling.”

The bait wasn’t taken as he took a step up to me. His eyes glinted with mischievous intentions. “I’ll bet you were wondering what it’d have been be like if it was me instead of Haynesworth…“

As he reached out to touch my cheek, I blocked his hand. “Stop trying to distract me. I’ve had all the moves laid on me before and I never fall for them. I’m serious-”

“That just means none of them have successfully managed to light your fire,” he chuckled over me, refusing to give in.

“I’ve been kissed by plenty of men, thank you!”

He just laughed over my indignant reply. “Obviously not like you should’ve been.”

On some level, he was getting a bang out of needling me. I crossed my arms. “Did you used to speak to your wife this way?”

His expression shuttered off in an instant, losing his teasing edge. “No. We were childhood best friends. Then one day we became something else. We were married a year later.” He smiled sadly, looking at the pavement. “Being with her was like breathing; easy and natural.”

Kit’s eyes flashed up to mine, smoldering with an internal fire. “You’re different. Everything about you calls to me. Much like a galgo, I’m drawn in by the lure. And there isn’t a more tempting lure out there.”

“There are plenty of other women.“

“Not like you,” he corrected, leaning into me to drive his point home. “There’s never been anyone like that for me. You are the flames to my gasoline. And I want to burn. Even better, the feeling is mutual…”

“Perhaps, though it would be pointless to speculate,” I said, looking away. Not with the new fiancé in question.

“Who needs to speculate?” he pushed further, stepping up to me and leaving an inch between us. “I already know how you feel. Can see it; feel it. You’re just holding back because you think we’ll never be. So I push all your buttons and…” He leaned in to hiss in my ear, his breath tickling my neck. “Watch you get hot. Hot for me.”

The spark between us was electric as his dark amber eyes dared me to disagree. Every zing of chemistry was blatantly obvious. I could feel the heat radiating off his body as he hovered over me, eyeing my lips with open desire. The urge to press myself against him was inescapably tempting. To feel his hands on my body. For his lips to land on mine.

“You wish,” I hissed back, pushing him back with one finger as he leaned in for the kill.

He stepped back, putting his hands up as the limo pulled round. “Careful, querida. If you don’t blow off some steam, you’ll overheat. Or even better, you’ll explode.”

“And if you explode first?” I drawled in return, letting the words drip with a dare.

He only grinned with a wicked edge in response as the limo pulled up. His smile was purely male; a sensual promise of things to come between us. This was by no means the end of our standoff.  

But as Elena walloped him with her bag as she swept past into the car, he only laughed and strutted off toward the other contestants. That and smirked at Teagan tauntingly, seeing his disapproval.

The ride to the club was mercifully short, especially as Teagan kept his gaze averted the whole way. I reflected on how I should proceed in the meantime. Anything I saw or heard would be filed away in my mind, keeping any knowledge about the rebellion at the forefront.

It was especially worrisome as I saw protesters through the window of the vehicle, lining street corners and attempting to block traffic. There was no way of knowing what they were protesting either, especially considering they seemed so disorganized. None of their signs seemed to match each other, the protested issue seeming to be more about the collective government than an actual current event or policy.

And the police force stood in lines in front of them, imposing the peace. But a good number of them were looking between each other, not knowing what to do. There were hundreds of people, if not thousands, spanning several blocks.

I personally felt sorry, knowing the futility of their actions. A shift in regime was what they wanted. But I doubted the change they desired would be achieved by the means they were using. The elites would lay low for a few weeks and then appoint another figurehead.

Nobody would win.

They were shrouded from my view as we pulled around the block, though their outraged shouting was still audible.

The contestants rode in a second limo, the vehicle pulling up behind us as we parked in front of the large, white clubhouse. Once inside the absurdly opulent club, I was less than thrilled to see that the place was packed. And especially with all of my father’s male elite friends. I.e., those who held the true power over our city. The puppeteers of the shadow government.

With brown leather couches surrounded by red walls and black and white checkerboard floors, the place gave me the creeps as it always did. Cigar smoke clouded the air as I stepped inside with Teagan close behind. All eyes turned to me, those of the masculine variety. I felt acutely uncomfortable in my sundress with the straps of my bikini exposed.

Father was sitting with an older man that I’d seen before but never paid attention to. The only thing I knew was that the fellow religiously attended the Bilderberg conferences every year. And that was never a good sign.

“George,” Elena said warmly, extending a hand to him and kissing him on the cheek. “It’s so good to see you! You remember Anna.”

Judging by the look George shot me, I truly hoped he didn’t. I wasn’t into being anyone’s sugar baby and that speculation was the kind of look he gave me. “Of course. She’s blossomed into such a lovely lady, just like her mother. How are you, Anna?”

Freaking out but good while wondering if he was the one I was engaged to, I inclined my head to him. “Well, thank you.”

He nodded dismissively, much like the usual tendency of the members of the club. “I don’t believe you’ve met my son, Yaron.”

So that was who the arrogant-looking fellow on his other side was. “No, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure. Well met, Yaron.”

A true charmer, Yaron barely cast me a glance as he took a sip of his drink. While he was good-looking enough, something told me that in Yaron’s eyes, he was his own cat’s meow.

As he stood suddenly and towered over me, I felt awfully small and for no reason to do with size. While he was over six feet, that wasn’t what daunted me. The feeling was somewhat akin to prey being inspected by a much larger predator. Like an owl surveying a rodent it’d just caught. All inner musings of my gut told me to run away from him as fast as humanly possible.

“Indeed,” he replied in a deep voice that filled with an unexplainable foreboding. He extended an arm to me. “Let us get to know each other. Walk with me?”

It was barely a request. I accepted the arm, now knowing exactly who Yaron was. Judging by the pleased expressions on Elena and my father, this must’ve been hubby to be.

Oh, shit.

Escorting me away from them and further into the halls of the club, I could feel myself visibly shrinking. Yaron gestured for Teagan to remain behind, so I was stuck alone with him. I wasn’t sure what it was about Yaron that gave me the willies, but everything in my subconscious was screaming at me that he was bad news.

As he turned his luminescent eyes on me, I gulped.

“You’re awfully quiet,” he mused, guiding me into a secluded room away from public view.

The last thing I wanted was for us to be alone. “Oh, I’m just –“

“No, it’s a good thing,” he said reprovingly, dropping his arm as we stopped. His eyes never left me, making me squirm. “I like my women quiet. Makes for easier relationships.”

Was I supposed to agree with that? All indicators pointed to the negative, but I said with forced pleasantry, “I’m sure. Now what is it you do, Yaron? Perhaps we have something in common.”

“I doubt it. Most women don’t enjoy talk of arms sales. I won’t waste my breath,” he said dismissively, turning to me fully. “Now I want you to know I never intend to have children. My brother can carry on the family legacy. I don’t have time for such things.”

That was good because I never intended to share his bed in the first place.

“I expect you to be attentive to me when I am home, however,” he added, expecting me to listen. “I have needs and they will be met. Strip for me. I want to see what you look like.”

My mouth ran dry. He wanted to inspect me? Was he serious? Did women put up with this kind of behavior from him usually? Deciding to test him, I crossed my arms. “And if I refuse?”

The hairs on the back of my neck went up as his eyes darkened. While he didn’t move, it was almost as if his pupils narrowed. “I don’t think you’ll like it…”

Now it came to me that he might well be the son of the arms dealer I’d heard about previously. The son whose girlfriends wound up roughed up and battered before ultimately being silenced. Hastily deciding not to antagonize him considering I had a bathing suit on under my dress, I just dropped it to the ground. Adding to my mounting disgust, he gestured with two figures for me to turn for him. As I did, he nodded his approval. “You’ll do. Don’t lose or gain any weight.”

“My doctor told me-“

I cut off as his hand twitched toward my face.

“Don’t,” he said with a ringing finality, turning for the door. “Now go swim. I have other things to be doing…”

As he walked out, my knees shook. Fear didn’t describe the effect the idea of being married to him had on me. Bracing my back on the wall, I felt dizzy as the true desperation of the situation hit me. Just the way he visually scrutinized my body left me feeling dirty and used.

Footsteps approached from outside so I hastily stooped to pick up my dress. Teagan poked his head around the corner and I huffed out a sigh of relief. His eyes traveled over me worriedly. “Everything okay?”

“It will be,” I said, shimmying the dress up over my torso and pulling on the straps.

Just by the set of his eyebrows, I was sure he’d deduced exactly what I had. And overheard everything. Especially as he added, “Don’t worry. Between Mortimer and me, we won’t leave you alone with him.”

“Yeah, and when we’re married?” I snapped, trying to shake off the shivers still running down my spine. The room was spinning and beginning to shrink, a sure sign an anxiety attack was headed my way. “Need to get out of here. Going to deck someone if I don’t –“

Further adding to my good humor, Elena came stomping in and waved her clutch at Teagan. “You get out! And what are you doing in here?! You’re supposed to be with Yaron!”

Acting as if Teagan didn’t exist since she’d told him to get out, Elena charged up to me with a half-deranged edge. “What did you do?! Did you make him angry?!” she demanded, coming over to stick her face in front of mine. “If you’ve screwed this up-“

“He decided I’d do.” As she visibly calmed, I snarled, “So this pleases you? I doubt you’ve ever even met him before!”

She shrugged. “It’s not my place to feel one way or the other. I’m not the one who picked him and it’s not my problem either.”

If it weren’t for the fact I’d be drugged over it, I’d have punched her right there. The urge to nail her over my new problem was inescapable. It would even ruin her latest nose job. Deciding that vacating her presence was the best route to self-preservation, I stomped out.

“Where are you going? I didn’t dismiss you!”

With her following hot on my heels, I decided escape was the best option. I started trying door handles as I darted down the hall. With her behind me and Teagan somewhere behind her, I was in no mood to deal with any of it. “Anna, come back here this instant!”

Hell no. Finally finding a handle that turned, I threw open the door. Quickly discovering the office far from occupied and, in fact, had quite the furry infestation going on, I froze. Two pointy ears and an alarmed set of glowing amber eyes turned in my direction as I slammed the door shut, realizing I’d just inherited myself a whole new quandary.

Elena stood in front of me as I remained thunderstruck. “What?”

“Mouse,” I lied, running with the most mundane excuse I could think of. “Ran across the floor. Look, I need some space. Getting married is such a big prospect that I can’t even begin to… thank you for such a… gift. God bless you.”

She just stared at me with blank surprise at my turn of tone. Since she’d already had a drink, she didn’t notice as I growled it out through my teeth like a malediction. Then with a shrug, she accepted the switch because it suited her. “Fine. You’re welcome then.”

Grinding my teeth together further as she sauntered off around the next corner, I looked back at Teagan who was hesitating ten feet back. “You guard the door.”

Before he could stop me, I slipped back into the office and snapped the door shut. Locking it for good measure, I turned to the new problem at hand. “You…”

The Lynx now lay sprawled across the desk’s papers with his legs crossed and his head propped up on one arm like a male pinup model. He grinned at me, puckering his lips facetiously at my perfectly livid tone. “Me. Hola, senorita. We meet again.”

“You’ve got to be insane to be in here,” I snapped, throwing my hands up at his perfectly irreverent tone. Though the voice changer masked his true voice, his sass wasn’t marred one bit.

In the brighter light of the office, I saw that his costume was simply a black shirt and black pants, offset by a cheap costume cape. The mask-like helmet, however, was more complexly structured. While the ears were shaped just like a real lynx’s, it appeared that some kind of electronic sensors lay within them.

He waved me off, unbothered by my alarm. “Security only guards what they think has value.” As he sat up and eyed me, he added with further amusement, “Nice bikini.”

Looking down at myself, I realized that I’d only gotten one strap of the dress up before Elena had accosted me. I hurriedly pulled it up. “You need to get out of here.“

“We talk first. I know you got my message yesterday,” he said conversationally, lazily adjusting his ears, which apparently were able to independently move, over the mask. They’d both turned toward me to follow the sound of my voice. “And what say you? Yay or nay to my offer?”

“I’m not interested in joining the Forge.“

“I’m not with them, though you’ve already figured that out,” he said, gesturing humorously at a perfectly round hole in his cape. “They took potshots at me earlier, so definitely not. As for you, I’m not interested in your taking a stand for us either. With your precarious position, spying for me has a much better ring to it.“

“Deal,” I said without hesitation, seeing his eyes widen. The rest of his face was hidden down to just below his cheekbones. “But I have terms…” I hesitated, wondering how much I should divulge. “I want out of the Hacienda.”

“You want to leave the Hacienda entirely?” Blank shock showed on his face despite the mask. “A new identity?”

“I’m not becoming Yaron’s wife. I’ll spy up until the wedding date. Then you get me out,” I demanded, striding up to him and putting my hands on either side of him on the desk. “I don’t care what you think of me. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”

Desperation was driving me to these lengths, but I didn’t care. There was no other way out otherwise. The Lynx cocked his head, eyes tightening in thought. “They’re giving you to Yaron?”

Judging by the intense loathing in his voice, he knew exactly who I was referring to. “God knows when.”

He nodded slowly. “I accept. I’m aware of his –“

“I have one more term,” I said, cutting him off.

He crossed his arms. “Another one?”

“You get Kit to go the hell home,” I said with utmost vehemence, seeing his eyebrows rising. “I don’t care how you do it, because they’re going to knock him off. If they’re pushing me at Yaron, they’re going to make definitively sure he’s nailed in the next competition. For all I know, the next event could be tomorrow. If you two are friends, prove it.”

His expression softened. “You care for him.”

“Obviously,” I snapped, knowing time was growing shorter by the minute. “Well?”

He smiled real tightly. “I doubt convincing him will be of much trouble considering you’ve decided to bail. And if you go with him, then absolutely not. I’ve overheard your conversations.”

It was my turn to be surprised. He had bugs in my room? “How?”

His smirk turned lopsided. “I have my methods. But what I overheard earlier between you was of most interest to me. I believe it was a discussion on seduction.”

I wracked my brain, trying to figure out what the hell he was getting at. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“’Speculate’ was the word you used,” he teased, reaching up to toy with a lock of my hair. “So very ironic coming from an attractive woman like you.”

Now he was coming on to me? I stared at him, wondering just what he was angling for. “Are you on drugs?”

He laughed under his breath, putting a finger to my lips. “Perhaps I believe it’s in your best interest to educate you. That way you’ll know the difference when my buddy Kit finally gets you to surrender.” Before I could object, he snaked one arm around my waist to pull me closer. “To know what it should feel like…”

As he eyed my lips with want, I sucked in a shocked breath. What was it with everyone today? It was like everything had suddenly gone on acid. While the idea of letting him kiss me wasn’t overly repugnant, I moved convulsively. I put both hands to his chest. “Don’t.”

“Why not?” he said silkily, his expression daring me to let him.

“Because you’re not…“

As the words slipped out, I realized with a start what I’d been about to say. The Lynx’s smirk turned a tad more lopsided as I bit back the words. “Because I’m not Kit?”

Precisely. The stark truth struck me square in the gut, realizing that I didn’t only like Kit. I’d fallen for him as well. The revelation struck me dumb, seeing just how badly I’d now screwed myself. I loved him? How was that possible?

To my surprise, the Lynx relinquished me and sat back. Even weirder, he seemed all the more smug that I’d rebuffed him. “Good. He’s lucky to have your loyalty. I’ll bid you adieu for now. We’ll work on getting you out. Kit can relay messages for me. In the meantime, stay sweet, senorita.”

Considering my nerves were completely shot, I skittered back as he produced some kind of gun and shot it up at the ceiling. Getting the idea a bit too late, I saw a line attach itself to the inner metal of an exposed open grate. So that’s how he’d gotten in here.

“Go find Kit and see just what it’s supposed to be like; to be loved,” he hissed to me, tracing my chin with his fingers before being hoisted up.

In a flash, he was up inside the vent system. He moved the grate back into place, making it appear as if he’d never been there at all.

“Cocky bastard,” I muttered.

A ghostly laugh echoed down at me, letting me know that I’d been heard. Then he was gone.

Deciding not to linger around, I darted for the door. Once outside, Teagan was nowhere to be seen. Wondering where he’d gone to considering I knew he’d never voluntarily abandon me, I jogged through the halls. Again, they were strangely empty. The whole place was suddenly putting off a very eerie vibe. Where did everyone go?

As I made it to the main reception area, I found it likewise vacant. I could hear voices, but I wasn’t sure where they were coming from. Perhaps everyone had gone outside to the pool but I couldn’t be sure.

The odd part was that a strange ticking was emanating from the shelf above the desk. It sounded like a clock, though with a more sedate rhythm. Approaching it, I was forestalled as Kit’s voice came up behind me. “Ah, there you are. Been looking for you…“

“Can you hear that?” I asked, reaching for the cardboard box to get it down as it went from ticking to beeping.

Kit came up behind me as I placed the box on the counter, seeing that the top of it was taped shut. The thing beeped and then went silent as we stared at it, the both of us perplexed. Then comprehension set in.

Terror crossed Kit’s face as he yanked me back before I could touch it. “Get down!”

I had no time to protest as he threw me to the floor and covered with his body. Just as my back hit the ground, a white light blinded me and a gale force wave of wind hit me across the face. My ears blanked out as a deafening boom sounded overhead.

All went dark as my head hit the wood.


Until next week my dear readers… Things are about to get hot…

Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

If you are enjoying Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell, you may enjoy these other titles by Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel:

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell | Part 8 – Treachery

Hello my dear readers! Enjoy this week’s edition. If you’ve missed previous chapters, here’s the directory! Enjoy!

Chapter Seven

For once, I was envious of Elena’s ability to tune out the real world. That and her sedatives. I could’ve done with a few of those.

Dinner had been marred with the news of a riot uptown. Faced with being fired by the union, a workers’ brawl had started two blocks up from where we were dining. Then it spread as people began protesting the police presence.

I’d watched part of it through a window of the restaurant as it raged down on the street two levels below us; completely aghast as chaos reigned and tear gas was fired mercilessly on the crowds.

While Teagan had advised taking me back to the Hacienda, Ryan had refused and finished eating without thinking much of the uprising. My suspicion was that he’d seen plenty of similar revolts and that this was of absolutely no shock to him.

What the hell was going on in this city?

Once we’d returned home, Ryan didn’t seem to understand my continued edginess. As Teagan discreetly hung back to give us privacy and slunk off into another hall, Ryan sighed. Placing a hand on my back as he escorted me to my suite, he murmured, “You’ve been quiet all night.”

“The incident left me… unnerved,” I admitted, wondering just what I should do. I didn’t dare let on to him what the woman had said; not until I spoke with Mortimer. If it got out that the rebellion leaders were eyeing me, I had no doubt those in power would either manipulate me further or outright kill me. “Is there a rebellion going on?”

He stared at me, expression inscrutable. “It’s nothing to worry about. It’s preposterous really; people wanting what they can’t have.” He touched my cheek. “You’re perfectly safe.”

Forestalling me as I went to question him further, he spun me around to pin me against the wall, caging me in with his arms. As my breath hitched, a smirk played at his lips.

“Now what is it I have to do to get your attention? I’m not used to being ignored… especially by such an enticing tease,” he murmured, his eyes taking on a predatory quality as he pressed a kiss to my neck. One hand dragged me closer by the waist.

Now he was closing in for the kill, looking to land himself in my bed. Unsure of what to do as he kissed his way upward, I just put my hand to his chest.  “Don’t you think you’re moving a bit fast?”

I squeaked as he kissed me roughly, capturing my lips. The kiss was overtly seductive, telling me exactly where he expected the evening to head. Although the contact wasn’t by any means unpleasant, I kept my eyes open, trying to push him off.

Especially as his hand slid down toward my ass and pulled me against him so that I could feel the pressing bulge in his pants. While I didn’t want to have to deck him, I was rapidly running out of options otherwise.

“Ryan, let’s not,” I said, trying to get my mouth away from him.

But he wasn’t listening.

That quickly ended.

“Hmm… Isn’t this where the man’s supposed to make sure the lady is on the same page…?”

Ryan surfaced, likewise hearing Kit’s liltingly annoyed tone. I looked to the side, spotting Kit standing at the top of the third level stairs, watching us with disgust. My cheeks burned.

Ryan straightened, though not moving from where he had me pinned. “Mr. Arenciana, don’t you have a taco somewhere with your name on it?”

The atmosphere in the room solidified into unnatural stillness; a smoldering tension hanging in the air like the calm before a destructive thunderstorm.

Kit only smiled more cagily, much like a cobra coiled ready to strike. “Perhaps a hot chocolate would be more like it considering my ancestors were Aztecs. If they encountered an adversary, they’d cannibalize and drink their blood. Fortunately, I prefer more diplomatic pursuits…”

The words held such a violent edge that I inhaled sharply. His eyes almost glowed, focused on Ryan with raw enmity. “But then again, I can take a hint. Some people refuse to, even from a beautiful woman.”

Taking the opportunity as Ryan shifted to face Kit, I slipped out of his grip. Before he could stop me, I got in my room and shut the door in his face. Locking it and leaning on it heavily from the other side, I heard Kit laugh. “Perhaps there’s a taco with her name on it somewhere, too. Somehow I very much doubt she fancies a European cream puff considering she didn’t seem even remotely tempted by your… cannoli.”

My jaw popped open, almost wishing I could see the two of their faces as that bomb dropped. Especially as Ryan chuckled darkly, “You know, once the Tourney is over, it’ll be my honor to attend your funeral.”

If Kit came down the stairs now, I didn’t doubt that there’d be a fight. As it was, he ever so spitefully added, “It’s eating at you that she hasn’t jumped at your proposal, isn’t it? That she can see through you to what you really are.”

“I’d watch myself if I were you,” Ryan snapped out, his voice hard with restrained hostility. “Who knows when you could suffer an unexpected accident before game day.”

Kit laughed, the sound so deep that it sounded like a growl. “I’m quaking in my boots. G’night… Cream puff…”

As Ryan’s footsteps disappeared back toward the next hall, I hurried over to the outside balcony. Knowing that Kit was coming as I heard his footsteps, I called up to him. “Kit?”

His head come over the side, peering down at me angelically. “¿Si senorita?”

I jumped as he leapt over the railing without warning and did a somersault in the process, landing effortlessly beside me in a crouch. He grinned, satisfied with himself as he straightened. “Wow. I’m getting good at that-“

“Hands up!”

Kit’s hands jerked up on reflex as a gun came over the side of the next railing. Teagan emerged from the doorway, eyes fixed on Kit. Then he spotted me, appearing surprised by my presence. “I knew it! You were in her suite earlier!” he accused, refocusing back in on Kit with aggravated scrutiny.

“She has a minifridge. I got her some yogurt and it needed to be refrigerated,” Kit said with boredom, rolling his eyes. “You gonna shoot me over that?”

“I invited him, Teagan,” I murmured, gesturing for him to stand down. The urge to laugh despite the situation was difficult to resist. The contrast between the two of them was laughable; Teagan making Kit look like a shrimp by size comparison. With Teagan well over six feet and Kit just over my height, it reminded me sharply of a chihuahua cornered by a much larger dog. One that refused to stop barking back.

“And where were you when she was being molested by the goose stepping Nazi wannabe?!” Kit demanded, predictably mouthing off.

“He did what?!” As Teagan’s gaze flickered over to me in question, I nodded. In an instant his expression turned to anger. “We’ll talk about the incident privately. I’ll be over here listening for if you need me, Aiyla.” He lowered the weapon, giving Kit the death glare. “As for you, use the damn door next time. I shoot first and ask questions later…”

Before another argument could erupt (and I was sure there would be one if I didn’t preempt it), I dragged Kit inside. He scoffed the whole way, chest puffed out. “Trigger happy, ain’t he?”

Not willing to respond to that, I shut the door and kicked my heels off. Kit sauntered into the room further in front of me, stretching with a yawn. “Had a full night?” As I didn’t reply, he muttered further, “Don’t tell me you actually wanted that slime bucket.“

“Is there a rebellion going on?” I demanded curtly, not in any mood for his babble. I turned, seeing his expression change. “I had a woman ambush me, saying she was sent by the Lynx.”

The oddest expression crossed his face before vanishing. “Did she? I’ve heard of this Lynx. Women swoon when they hear of his valor. He saved you the other evening, yes? What did you think?”

More than confused with his switch in tone and intent interest in my thoughts on the matter, I simply shook my head. “Cocky. Arrogant. Dead if he keeps this up.”

“Sounds like he’s got a thing for you, sending one of his people to see you,” he said, sitting on the arm of the couch. Then his eyes traveled lower over my dress. “And in a get up like that, there’s little doubt why.”

“Either way, it leaves me with a very large problem considering she threatened me,” I muttered, pulling a sweater on over it. I shivered, just thinking about the ordeal. “I help the resistance, I’m dead. If I don’t, they kill me. Either way I’m screwed.”

He looked at me sharply. “She threatened you? And what do you mean you’re dead if you help? They probably only meant to provide them with inside information.”

“My father is a figurehead, Kit. We’re controlled by a group of more powerful elites. A shadow government if you will. If they even suspect I’m sympathetic to this rebellion, they’ll get rid of me faster than you can blink,” I admitted with a shudder, not caring if he knew any more.

Kit’s eyes narrowed, taking it in. “A shadow government?”

“If the rebellion thinks deposing him is going to accomplish anything, they’re deluded,” I said, heading for the decanter of whiskey I kept on the counter. I needed it to calm my nerves. “The controlling powers will just replace him with another puppet. It’s what they do. If that happens, they’ll cut all loose ends. And me with them.”

He caught me before I could reach for the decanter, making me sit on the nearest chair. He took both of my hands, looking more troubled than I’d seen him before. “Drinking isn’t good with your health issues,” he said gently. “If you want something, I’ll get you the yogurt.”

I shook my head at the offer, looking at our hands. He sighed, perching himself on the arm of the chair next to me. “But I need you to explain to me what’s going on. You’re saying that your father has no governing power? None at all?”

“He may come up with ideas, but they’re all vetted by those in control. They give him orders; he carries them out,” I admitted, closing my eyes. “Once I graduated from school, I was dragged into all this. They warned me that any wrong move on my part could kill us all. Any wrong move on his or Elena’s part as well.”

All the blood drained from his face as I murmured, “If the rebellion comes to kill him, they’ll silence me permanently. There’s no winning.”

Unable to bear the look of fear on his face, I just looked at the ground. “If it gets back to them that the woman was looking to recruit me, they might even take action at the mere insinuation that I betrayed them.”

“Then we keep it secret,” he murmured, brushing my hair back and kissing the top of my head to comfort me. He sighed. “I won’t tell anyone. I promise I’ll keep your secret safe, mi vida.”

At those unexpected words, all my composure cracked. Having concealed my anxiety from everyone all night, those words were the break in my personal Hoover dam. All the memories came rushing back to me in an instant, reminding me of just what I’d lost. A sob broke free from me.

He jumped, not expecting the sound. He took my face in his palms, making me look at him. “Hey, it’s going to be okay. Don’t cry.“

“No. It’s just that my aunt always used to call me that,” I sniffled, trying to pull away to hide my weakness. I made sure no one ever got to see me cry. “Before she…”

Before she’d been ripped away from me. Before she left me in this mess; a broken wreck with no one left to turn to.

“Ah. I – oh, to hell with it.” He plunked down onto the chair beside me and took me in his arms, hugging me to his chest. I wound up crying on his shoulder, too far gone to stop as he rubbed my back to comfort me. “Just let it out. Cry on me all you want. I’ll bet that bastard cream puff would get upset over your ruining his shirt, eh?”

He murmured, stroking my hair to attempt to soothe me as I cried, unsuccessfully trying to stop. Every time I just about put a stopper in it, another wave of pain would wash over me. He snatched a tissue from the box on the coffee table to dab it under my eyes. “It’s going to be okay.”

“No, it’s not,” I whined, beyond consolation. “This shouldn’t be my life. I belonged back in Cataluacan. It’s all my fault!”

“What’s your fault?”

“My aunt, she…” I swallowed hard, realizing he didn’t know what I was talking about. I shook against him, thinking about it. “She as good as raised me. But when I graduated, my parents demanded I come back to live here, decreeing I’d never see her again. They wouldn’t tell me why. When I resisted, they sent a security team a night early to drag me out. If I’d gone along with it peacefully, then we’d still have been there. The usual security team wouldn’t have left that night and…”

The horror washed over me all over again, reliving how the news had been broken to me.

“She was murdered,” I sobbed, feeling his arms constrict around me in response. “Burglars broke in and killed her before burning the house down. They must’ve seen us leave and thought there’d be valuables.”

Shaking so hard that the chair was vibrating, I choked out, “My aunt – my fault – everything I do always ends up wrong…“

“No, not your fault,” he murmured to me sorrowfully.

“She always told me to be myself, but I can’t anymore. She wouldn’t even recognize me with what they’ve done to my face!”

“Your face?” he asked, tipping my chin up to him.

I sniffled. “They made a plastic surgeon change… get rid of my freckles and suck all the fat out of my face. Since I always spoke to her in Spanish, I had a certain way of talking. So they got me a dialect coach to change how I spoke. They even changed my name a second time.”

Seeing the sympathy in his eyes, I shook my head and tried to move away. “Trust me, Kit. You don’t want me. Everything about me is one big lie-“

“Leila.”

As he spoke that name, I just froze. He dabbed the tissue under my eyes gently, a new knowledge burning in his gaze. “Señora Lola’s niece, Leila, right? Señora Lola Clarita in Cataluacan?”

“How – how did you know to call me that?” I said, voice coming out with a rasp. “My aunt was the only one who ever did. Elena insisted Leila was a common name, so she initially called me Aiyla instead.”

“Because I knew her,” he said softly with a sad smile. “Used to deliver her groceries in the morning as a kid. She bought vegetables and herbs from mi tia’s garden. They were friends so Señora Lola would always give me a cookie and some milk before I left. She would tell me that I ought to stay so I could meet her niece when she came home. But I never did.”

As Kit pulled a wallet from his pocket, I was astounded as he showed me a singed photo. It was a picture of Lola and me from when I was fifteen. “When I found this in the ashes of the house, I decided that I’d try to find her dear Leila to return it someday. I never could until now because I’d been looking under the wrong name.”

He pressed it into my hands. I held it gingerly, afraid it’d fall apart in my fingers. I traced the edges reverently, treasuring it. Beyond words, I just looked at him.

“You don’t look altogether that different,” he insisted, tucking my hair behind my ear. “But there’s something you should know about her murder. She wasn’t killed by burglars.”

My heart felt as if it stopped in my chest when I heard those words. My stomach dropped like a lead weight before fire took over my veins, anger sparking in my soul.

“Then who?” I demanded, my voice coming out almost guttural with rage.

Sadness clouded his features. “The police. I had forgotten her order for the day and went back to deliver them. The sun was going down as I came around the corner and I saw the blaze in the sky. Then I saw the house was on fire.”

He paused, hesitating as I hung on every word. “I tried to get in to see if she was inside but the door was locked. Looking in the window, I saw them. They shot her point blank. She’d been threatening to tell the world something if you weren’t brought back to her. I don’t know what.”

Air wouldn’t come into my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. Time seemed to stop in my mind as I processed what he was telling me, almost wishing the former lie I’d known to be the real way she died. This truth was even worse, knowing that it’d been a hit.

“I got away before they noticed me,” he whispered in a broken voice, still watching me intently. “Hid as they left. The head of your father’s police at the time drove away. Haynesworth’s father.” His face saddened further. “I couldn’t understand why the presidente would be interested in Señora Lola… until now. Now I know the truth.”

He looked at me squarely, chilling anger clear on his face. “He made sure you could never go back. So he alone would have control over you. Your father murdered her.”


And that’s it for part eight! Ending on a bit of a cliffhanger this week, but I want to her your predictions for the next chapter. A new side of Haynesworth was revealed tonight and a terrible revelation unearthed.

Until next Friday, you’ll have to wait and see what happens. Stay tuned…

Until then, make sure to pick up your free gift before you go! Still Death is available for a limited time only to my readers. Get it sent straight to your inbox below:

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Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell | Part 7

Here’s the continuation of last week’s cliffhanger! For the previous chapters, click here. Otherwise, enjoy!

Chapter Six:

Soft sheets met my skin as I came to. My mouth felt as dry as the Atacama Desert; my body heavier than a lead weight. The memory of Kit begging me to hold on sounded in my mind, reminding me that something had gone terribly wrong. Everything on me felt like it was burning.

With a whine, I tried to speak. Feeling an odd sensation on my mouth and nose, I opened my eyes a crack. There was an oxygen mask hissing air into my nose; pain in my wrists. Looking down, I saw an IV digging into my skin. While I was in my bed, there were all kinds of medical equipment surrounding me.

Looking further, I discovered that I was far from alone. Mortimer sat in one corner, his eyes darker than I’d ever seen them. Fury emanated from every feature, along with a grim determination that chilled me.

“What happened?” I croaked, discovering my throat was terribly sore. Spotting a strange wand on the table at the foot of my bed, I realized that the soreness had likely come from a tube being rammed down my throat to pump my stomach. Either that or to keep air in my lungs.

“Tiny got the bright idea to give you your mother’s pills,” he muttered, his voice so deep in his chest that it sounded more like a wolf’s growl. His eyes flashed with barely restrained wrath. “Except your mother lied when she told Tiny they were sedatives…”

Dread settled into my gut, realizing that I hadn’t merely experienced a bad reaction. I’d unwittingly overdosed on some kind of drug. “What were they?”

“Don’t know yet,” he muttered, standing to come closer. “Some kind of designer drug, though. You’re lucky you spat them out when you did or you’d be…”

He trailed off, gritting his teeth. I extended a weak hand to him and he took it, sitting on the edge of the bed next to me. “That guy, the one you helped, kept you breathing until the paramedics got here.”

Kit had saved my life? A small, unbidden smile came to my lips as I was flooded with gratitude. Then a new anxiety came to me. “They didn’t hurt him for being down here, did they?”

“Considering he’s the hero, they only locked him in his room,” Mortimer assured me as I tried to sit up, brushing my hair back soothingly. “While they tried to originally pin the blame on him, once the pills were confiscated from Tiny…”

He stopped talking as a man in a white coat, whom I could only assume was a doctor, strode in with a tablet, the older man smiling with relief. “Ah, Miss Anna, you’re awake.”

“Tiny gave me… She said it was a sedative,” I said with a wavering voice, worried that Kit would be punished for her transgression.

The doctor nodded, though his eyes narrowed in on me with a different kind of scrutiny. “Yes, but my concern is you’re severely underweight. It’s hindering your body’s recovery.”

Before I could speak, Mortimer rumbled, “She’s not anorexic and will eat like a horse… if it’s allowed. But she does get hypoglycemic.”

Dismay flooded the doctor’s expression. “That should’ve been reported to her GP. Symptoms of her diabetes-”

That got my attention. “Diabetes?”

“That must be a mistake,” Mortimer asserted, giving the doctor a curious look.

“That’s odd. All her medical records indicate she has it,” the doctor muttered, looking at the results on his tablet. He looked up at me with sympathy, worry clouding his eyes. “Let me inquire of her usual GP. In the meantime, she needs some immediate calories.”

“Drawer,” I said quietly, gesturing at the night table next to me.

Mortimer obligingly opened the drawer, so I pointed at the pillowcase hidden within. He handed it to me as I pulled the oxygen mask down and immediately dug in, especially appreciative of the supplies Kit had provided me earlier.

Having forgotten about the Danish until now, I was more than happy to tear a hunk out of it with my teeth. While it hurt my throat, the gooiness of it soothed the raw burn.

The doctor didn’t comment on the odd way I’d hidden my food, though he did quip, “I’ll be back in a moment, hopefully with answers.”

As he headed out, I looked into Mortimer’s watchful eyes. I could read everything in them. “How bad do I look?”

“Frail,” he responded bluntly, radiating tension. “But –“

The evening didn’t seem to be heading in any less an exciting direction as Mortimer jumped up to defend me; his Glock aimed at the balcony door as it opened from the outside in. “What the hell-?!”

“It’s okay,” I murmured to Mortimer, noting he refused to stand down despite the recognition between the two parties.

“You won’t shoot me,” Kit said confidently, striding in with his eyes directly focused on me and unbothered in the slightest by Mortimer’s reaction. They softened with relief as he saw me eating and he came to sit on the very edge of the bed. “You all right, querida? You had us scared but good. You were poisoned, yes? Hard to hear from upstairs…”

Mortimer looked between the two of us, clearly displeased by the arrival and lowered his weapon. I held up my hand with the IV pumping fluids into my veins. “Yes, though by accident. It wasn’t intentional on Tiny’s part.”

His brow furrowed, deepening into scrutiny as if I were lying. “Oh? Then why’d they take her out back and give her the firing squad?”

Horror gripped at my heart. “No…”

“I’m guessing that Elena denied taking any drugs to wash her hands of the whole thing,” Mortimer muttered, seeing me upset. While Tiny was an absolute monster, I didn’t believe she deserved to die by any means. Especially not for my mother’s lies.

One of Kit’s eyebrows went up. “So they just shoot her? No trial?”

“Not in this end of the regime,” Mortimer said without any hesitation, likely also aiming it as a caution to Kit of what could occur.

As his name was called from the doorway by one of his men, he shot us a warning look. “I’ll be back.”

Kit didn’t seem to notice the warning aimed his way as Mortimer strode out. Noting his eyes lingering on me with grim intensity, I looked down and popped another piece of Danish in my mouth. “Please don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like I’m pathetic.“

“You’re not,” he insisted firmly with a heavy sigh, trying to catch my eyes as I studiously avoided his. “I’m just sorry. I had no idea this was how you lived. You’re essentially an actress, one forced to smile.“

“One who doesn’t get paid damn good enough,” I muttered, ripping into a second Danish while I could. “It never used to be like this. When I was growing up, they never bothered with me except at the holidays.”

Absentmindedly toying with the locket around my neck, I stared at the opposite wall. Times had been so much better then, living with my aunt. She’d moved to the area adjacent to the school so I could live with her after school hours were over. Other than during the holidays, my father and Elena never brought me home.

Every good childhood memory – scratch that – every good memory in my life had been with Lola. Then in an instant, she was torn away from me. The day after I turned eighteen, she was murdered. And I’d been brought here permanently, given the duty of public appearances as an adult.

With her death, something in me had died. It’d remained stone cold ever since, my soul more listless with every passing day. Even as the years had passed, I never fully recovered.

“I’ll bet you have a nice family with your tia and Alvin,” I murmured, trying to divert attention from me and also a tad envious. “Mine was like that, too, once upon a time…”

Before Kit could reply, my father strode in. Much like his usual, he didn’t appear the slightest bit ruffled by what’d happened to me. “Darling, are you all right? We caught that horrible woman red handed. The whole situation has been taken care of.”

Every word sounded scripted and fake. Noting that he hadn’t paused to hear if I was indeed all right, I forced myself to sit up. “The doctor said I may have diabetes –“

“Diabetes? That’s an underprivileged person’s ailment,” he said over me, seeming appalled by the idea. I was likewise sickened, not believing my ears with this one. Then he spotted Kit, doing a doubletake. “How did you get down here?”

Sparing Kit from answering (other than by shooting my father a look of absolute loathing), I was relieved to see the doctor stepping in. The man soured when he saw who was present. “Ah, there you are. It’s in her records that your daughter was previously diagnosed with type two diabetes.“

Something told me that the doctor had already questioned my father and likewise gotten the ‘underprivileged’ quip considering his loftily irritated, authoritative tone. Father just shrugged.

“Since childhood,” the doctor said with further frustration at his continued denial. He ignored him entirely as he came to me, the kindly older gentleman adding, “You are of the small percentage of patients whose bodies produce enough insulin to get by, but only if your diet and lifestyle don’t overwhelm it. In your medical files, it said that so long as you were monitored and eating correctly, medication was not needed-“

“This must be a mistake,” Father said arrogantly.

“Her diet must include the proper nutrients or it will kill her!!” the doctor exclaimed with open exasperation, rounding on him.

“Can’t she just take injections?” he asked in return.

Rather than argue, the doctor appealed to me with a far gentler tone. “Would you prefer to discuss your medical needs confidentially?”

Without Father being present was the unvoiced intonation. The fellow eyed me, almost looking like he’d personally enjoy throwing my father out if I requested it. I shook my head, knowing that it wouldn’t matter. Father would immediately make his own diagnosis once the doctor was gone.

“My recommendation is for an in-house nutritionist,” he said with resignation, checking my IV. “To help return your weight back to the ideal BMI without upsetting your insulin levels.”

“Her BMI has already been calculated by our fitness professional,” Father said obnoxiously, not giving in.

“She’s underweight!”

“We’ll get a second opinion on all this…”

As the doctor turned on him, finally losing his temper over the treatment I was receiving, I just shrank into the bed. Now I had new worries to deal with besides starvation. If I didn’t eat, I could be at risk in another way. My fainting spell with Alvin would’ve ended a lot worse if he hadn’t intervened with the juice.

Likewise having reached the end of his tolerance, Kit came up to my side. He fluffed my pillow and blocked them from my view by sitting next to me, putting his back to them. He snatched a bottle of water from the nightstand, handing it to me. “Drink. Next he’ll be rationing your water intake, too…”

His tone dripped with venomous hatred toward my father, focusing in on me with worry and prodding my hand as I failed to take it. I shook my head, preoccupied. “You need to get out of here, Kit.”

“Mmm? Yes, they’ll probably attempt to kick me out in a minute.“

“No, I meant about-“

I cut off with a squeak as he pulled the oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. He chuckled deep in his chest without humor, imitating what I’d done to him back at the first Tourney event with the oxygen. “So we’re back to trying to get rid of me, eh?”

“She was after you, Kit,” I said without softening the blow, pulling the mask back down so he could hear me. “The spoons were Elena’s idea.”

His eyebrows went up again as he took my hand, far from bothered. “Because I don’t know fancy-shmancy etiquette, eh? I appreciate you trying to defend me again, but this time it put you in the crosshairs. I can take care of myself.” He looked at my hand, comparing the size of it to his. “You have tiny hands.”

For the first time, I wondered just what Kit had faced before he came here. No matter the situation, he didn’t show any fear and refused to back down when confronted with danger. “Whatever your reasons, they’re not worth it,” I said, refusing to be dissuaded. “Run.”

“And leave you to be starved?” he said without one ounce of teasing, still looking at my fingers. “What kind of man would I be then?”

The statement was especially poignant as my father came stomping over to my bedside, a complete contrast to Kit’s concern.

“Mr. Arenciana, go to your room,” he ordered without feeling, arms crossed with defiance despite having had the kind doctor thrown out. “I need to speak to my daughter.”

Kit did as asked, never taking his eyes off me. He winked, giving my hand a squeeze. “Feel better, chica.”

As he walked out, I didn’t miss the downright murderous look he shot at my father. The look in his eyes promised violent retribution, though I couldn’t fathom how he’d get it . He was hidden from my view with the closing of the door. 

“Darling, I’m sure this is just a misdiagnosis,” Father said, reclaiming my attention as he patted my head like he had when I was six.

“Then how did Auntie Lola know?” I murmured, remembering how she’d bring me to the doctor regularly to have my blood checked. Even more suspicious, she had diabetes herself. She’d have recognized the signs. I stared him directly in the eyes. “You were the one who always dealt with my childhood care. Why hide it from me?”

He sighed heavily as if burdened by the accusation. Why he would lie I couldn’t fathom, though it seemed he had. His cell phone rang, saving him from having to answer. “You need to put the past behind you, Anna. I have to take this.“

“It’s Aiyla!” I thundered, my throat protesting with pain as I yelled. “You named me so deal with it! We’re not in public!”

But he was already gone with the closing of the door.

Unable to resist the urge, I threw the thing closest to me at the door. The victim was the water bottle in hand, landing with a crack and the cap popping off to spill water all over the floor.

Watching as the liquid pooled out, I realized it echoed my current state. If I kept going like this, I would crack. This incident snapped all the restraints in my mind about just where my safety stood. If I did nothing, I would fall by their hands by my own passivity. Fight it, and I knew not where I would wind up, though at least I could say I wasn’t complicit in my death.

If anything, I owed my dear aunt that much. She’d given so much to stand by me. Allowing myself to continue the downward spiral would be an insult to her memory.

This had to end. Enough was enough.

The phone beside me rang, prompting me to shut the damn thing up.  Unfortunately for me, the touch screen answered instead of shutting it off. “What?!”

“If you’re able to answer with such vigor, I suppose it’s a good sign,” Ryan’s amused voice purred back, making me grumble in response. “My mother got a call from Elena, looking for sympathy because apparently you’ve ‘contracted’ diabetes. I mean, really? Contracted?”

“Guess she’s not upset over my being poisoned then,” I groused, flopping back on the pillows. The IV was beeping something awful, frustrating me further.

Dead silence reigned for a few seconds. “Poisoned?” he repeated in an entirely different tone, the humor fading. “I’ll be there in minutes.”

He hung up, leaving me to shake my head. But as Mortimer came in, I rolled my eyes. “Haynesworth is coming in hot.”

“Swell,” he grunted, looking like he was ready to beat the crap out of someone. His nostrils flared, looking at me and apparently having overheard everything, including the diagnosis. “This all counts as abuse and I can’t do one damn thing about it. You’ve gotten so used to the ill treatment that you just take it.”

I didn’t dare tell him that my ‘not taking it’ earlier was what prompted Tiny to drug me. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I’m assigning a permanent security detail to you – whether you like it or not – to report directly back to me.”

Considering I’d refused a permanent bodyguard before, all I could do was scowl. He noticed. “Sorry, hun. I know you can defend yourself against attack. But you need a different kind of defense now.”

I nodded slowly, knowing he was right. “Thank you, Mort.”

His eyes clouded over, looking as if he had so much more to say. But we both knew that there were infinite ears to hear everything. Everyone in this building was always eager to improve their position with the elite and usually at someone else’s expense.

It didn’t stop him, however, from stooping down and giving me a rare hug. I buried my head in his neck, embracing him in return. “We’ll figure something out,” he promised me gruffly, sounding suspiciously choked up. He shuddered. “Came close to losing you today.”

“You know better,” I muttered, trying to cheer him up as I drew back a little. “I’m like a jackass. Too stubborn to die.”

He smiled at me, eyes glinting with unshed tears. “Well, at least we’ve got that much in common.” I laughed weakly and he sighed. “Just never forget you’re the daughter I never had. This isn’t the end of this. Not by a long shot. There will be a reckoning.”

Deeply touched, I didn’t have time to question him as there was a soft knock. Seeing Haynesworth in the doorway watching the two of us, I wondered just how much he’d heard. And while he was an ally, I didn’t trust him all the same.

Mortimer mussed my hair up affectionately before nodding in his direction. “I’ll be out on the balcony, getting some air if you need me.”

Meaning there was no way in hell he was leaving me alone tonight, but he’d give us a little privacy. Haynesworth nodded as he placed two large paper bags on the bed. His eyes traveled over me minus his signature smirk, surprisingly concerned as Mortimer stepped out. It only deepened as he read the label on the IV bag on the pole next to me.

“These are the drugs EMTs give people when they’ve overdosed,” he murmured, looking me over with suspicion.

I shot him a frank look. “If I wanted to die, don’t you think I’d have been more creative with the method? Let alone succeeded?”

His lips twitched in response, lifting up the clove of garlic from the edge of the pillowcase with the candies in it. “A talisman to ward Elena off perhaps?”

Vampirism? Now that would explain a few things. I snatched it from him, tucking it away. “An inside joke from a friend.”

Ryan was last person I needed to know of Kit’s interference. He inclined his head, stepping over to pull out the containers of takeout. My mouth watered at the smell. His smirk returned, placing a container in front of me. “From your resident hero perhaps? You seemed to have freely doled your attention out to him.”

It didn’t surprise me that there was a jealous angle in there somewhere. Despite our consistent game of baiting each other, I didn’t doubt that Ryan resented the idea of me giving my attention to someone else. “I find Kit’s blatant honesty refreshing.”

“So you don’t want him?”

The question was too casual. I accepted a fork as he offered it to me. “I don’t allow myself to think in that avenue of thought.”

“Yes, you keep your heart nicely tucked away where no one can get to it,” he replied with a glint in his eye, sitting down to eat before offering me a breadstick.

I accepted and took a bite. “Why indulge what isn’t possible? My life has been chosen for me, as will be my future husband.” He nodded as if disappointed by my answer. “Why are you really here? The extent of our relationship doesn’t usually include house calls.”

 “Perhaps I decided on a traditionalist approach,” he said, twirling his fork around his pasta. “Romance as opposed to pure sex.”

“Is this your way of hinting that you’ve been trying to get my attention previously and failed?” I asked wryly, digging into my food. As he shrugged, I snickered, “I know better. I’m only a game you play whenever you bore of your expensive toys and pinup girlfriends.”

“No games. You’re a forever kind of girl, Anna, not someone I would have a fling with,” he said with an uncomfortable edge.

“And you want ‘forever’ now?” I asked skeptically.

“Perhaps. We both share a common desire for justice. As wife of the head of Dejado Atrás’ police, you’d get it,” he said, picking a stray bay leaf out of his lasagna.

Now he was hinting at marriage? “You’ve been promoted?”

“They’re grooming me for the position. My family has been prodding me to settle down, but I’ve no interest in letting them choose my spouse,” he admitted, seeing my dubious expression.

Both my eyebrows were rising. “So you’re after a marriage of convenience with me? So much for romance.”

He laughed lightly. “You’d hardly be a convenience, Anna. Your true nature is to be opinionated, despite your being beaten into submission.” He leaned in, preparing to dangle whatever he thought the clinching argument was. “With me, you’d be out of your mother’s reach. I don’t micromanage diets or clothes. In fact, I prefer no clothes at all.”

I looked at the ceiling. “So that’s why you brought me all the food: a bribe.”

“And to see if you were all right.”

“I know you, Ryan. This isn’t like you,” I said, not buying it. I crossed my arms. “How long have you been planning this?”

“Long enough to have this for you.”

As he pulled out a small jewelry box and placed it on my palm, I gingerly opened the lid. Inside sat a sparkling engagement ring, one that must’ve cost him quite the pretty penny.  

“I have few enough choices, Anna. I want my wife to be one of them,” he admitted, scratching his head. “I enjoy my time with you and have toyed with the idea for a while. When I heard what your family has done to you… Well, I think this could be the solution for us both.”

“You do know that there is no way for me to answer this proposal, right?” I said gently, extending it back to him.

He put his palm up, not accepting it back. “They can’t stop me from popping the question on live TV. They’d be forced to go along with it. You have full choice here.”

There wasn’t one ounce of pleasure in me at this idea. This move would be strategic at best, no love between the two of us. “Emotions have no place in this decision, do they?”

“Weren’t you the one upset by men plying you with false declarations of love?” he said with a hint of irony. I closed my eyes. “I think we both would be considerably happier with each other than with anyone else. Your mother is favoring my elder brother for your hand and I don’t want to see a drunk, often abusive man as your keeper. With me, you’d have your life back. And I…”

He trailed off, seeming to see something in his mind that deeply disturbed him. “Well, I’d get more prestige, being married to the presidente’s daughter, not that I’d need it.”

I didn’t stop him as he reached to touch my cheek, looking into my eyes. “You really are beautiful, you know. Not many women can pull off the withered look, complete with an IV pole and still keep my attention.”

Smiling despite myself, I looked down. “I think you should eat your dinner before it gets cold, Ryan.”

He nodded, withdrawing at my subtle cue and offering me another breadstick. “But you’ll think about it?”

I inclined my head, wondering if there was even really much choice in the matter. At the current moment, I didn’t see another way out. But I still hated being backed into a corner. “I will.”

***

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well. But as morning rolled around and I awoke, I was more than amused to hear singing. Very bad singing, in fact. As I rolled over, I cringed at the sound. Since it was coming from the floor above, my guess was Kit was taking a shower.

Considering my IV had been taken out the night before, I was free to head over to the balcony door. While my body felt more tired than normal, I felt two hundred percent better than twelve hours ago.

Stepping out into the sun, I smiled as I discovered another pillowcase had been thrown down, along with a tulip.

A tulip that looked suspiciously like one that I’d spotted the gardeners planting a week ago on the grounds. Inside the pillowcase was a small box of granola bars and three apples, along with a note.

Contraband goods. I have leftovers from last night since you had ‘company’.

  • Kit

“You look better.”

Looking up, I discovered him peering down as he toweled dry. Noting that he was once again sauntering around in the buff as he shook out his wet hair, I said, “Your singing woke me.”

He shrugged, leaning over the side to see me better. “Yes, I’m not pop star material. But it beats an alarm clock.”

Settling in and biting into an apple, I allowed myself to enjoy his company. “How do you keep getting in and out to get the food? Not that I’ll complain, but you can’t be flying over rooftops. What’s your secret?”

A very smug expression came to his face, almost like he was immensely enjoying an inside joke. “Security only patrols where they think someone will get in. They don’t care about someone getting out so that takes care of half the problem.”

Not altogether convinced, I bit another hunk out of the apple. He chuckled, watching me with interest. “I came down to see you again after ‘Prince Charming’ left, but you’d already dozed off.  He really thinks his shit don’t stink, si? Coming while you were weak to spin his ideas to you. Tcha! Despicable.”

That was one of my first deductions as well, though his disgust was apparent. “So you heard…”

“He’s banking on all of us contestants dying and waltzing off with the prize himself,” Kit seethed, apparently no love lost between him and Ryan. His hands clenched over the railing before forcing his voice into a more amiable tone. “I heard you two last night. You haven’t allowed yourself to entertain ideas of me? I’m either impressed by your ability to lie to yourself or depressed by it.” He gestured at himself with humor. “You can’t be immune to all this.”

“I don’t fantasize about dead men,” I parried back, taking another bite and enjoying the view of all he entailed while I could.

A wicked grin came to his face as he leaned over even further. “Oh, but I’m alive now, chica. And willing to prove it.”

An unwelcome thrill ran down my spine as he stared down at me with a cat-like gaze, his eyes alight with mischievous intentions. As I involuntarily gulped, he smiled even wider. “Dead men don’t sing, right? You like me. You just don’t want to admit it.”

I rolled my eyes, knowing better than to go for the bait. Kit only chuckled. “Did I hit a nerve? I’d like to hit every nerve you have in a way that wouldn’t leave you complaining…”

Now he was really going for it. I tossed the core of the apple up at him and he dodged it with a laugh. “Speaking of nerve…”

“Chica, I’m not blind. I can see you eyeing me from down there,” he said with open satisfaction, still not moving to get dressed. As I crossed my arms, he added, “Care for me to come down? I’m not nearly as shy as you are and my constitution could do with a boost…”

As I headed inside and knowing better than to respond to his reference to what the shrink had said yesterday, his laughter followed me. I growled under my breath, knowing that this was going to become more of a problem now that he knew Haynesworth was after me. “Pain in the ass.”

A very sexy pain in the ass, but still.

As I walked in, I saw a note on my door. It informed me that I had an afternoon shopping appointment with Elena and her friends.

Goodie for me.

Feeling particularly rebellious and realizing that I wouldn’t win no matter what I did, I made a decision. One that I knew would bite me in the butt, but I no longer cared. Without a personal assistant to rat me out for the first time in a number of years, there would be no one to police me before I went in public. There was great opportunity.

Twenty minutes later, the stretch limo was waiting. Getting inside, I was startled to find I wasn’t alone. A rather burly man in a black jacket with a dark set of shades looked up from his phone as I got in.

“Hello, miss. I’m your new security detail. Mortimer sent me,” he rumbled, giving me a once over as I warily strapped myself in.

That wasn’t what had me confused. Seeing his face as he pulled his glasses off, recognition tickled my brain. “Don’t I know you?”

With his sun-bleached hair and tanned skin, I knew I’d seen him somewhere. To my interest, a bright flush colored his cheeks. “Yes, I’m Mortimer’s nephew.“

“Teagan,” I finished with easy remembrance, though baffled by this turnaround. Last time I’d seen him, he’d been three times smaller around the shoulders. That and his voice had gotten rougher. “You shadowed him while you were training. And spilled lemonade on Elena.”

He shifted uncomfortably, looking anywhere but directly at me. “Yes. My apologies.”

I snorted amusedly, now knowing why Mortimer had sent him.

“Don’t apologize. That was the highlight of my year.”

 I’d met him a few times during my teens, so I had no obligation to hide my personality in front of him. We’d even sparred a few times with Mortimer coaching us. Joining the armed forces since then certainly agreed with him. Last time I saw him, he’d been a nervous, ungainly mess. Now I was sure that he had no trouble landing women.

He nodded, slate grey eyes watching me with unerring accuracy. “I’m to accompany you daily and procure you ‘sufficient’ meals when they’re not provided. Anything else I should know?”

I scowled. “I don’t like being babysat, Teagan.”

“Considering you took great joy in socking me in the jaw, I know you can defend yourself. I’m just back up,” he said with a dry edge, mouth set in a firm line. “And I go by Monster now.” As I shot him an inquisitive look, he muttered, “You don’t want to know why.”

I very much doubted that, especially with his succinctly contrite attitude. If anything, it was acutely uncomfortable the way he studied me, rigidly sitting in his seat. Getting the distinct feeling that he’d noticed I’d forgone makeup entirely, as well as worn low cut jeans and a black T-shirt with a skull and crossbones across the bust, I smirked. The shirt exposed my arms and revealed my tan skin: the one thing that those in charge did their best to hide.

Knowing there would be trouble, I couldn’t hide my glee. The best part was that Elena would be amongst her friends. She couldn’t complain about my appearance, lest she admit she didn’t have full control over me. And by the time I got into the store, all the paparazzi would have gotten photos. She wouldn’t be able to undo what I’d done.

If Teagan had any opinion on the matter, he kept it to himself as we rode the rest of the way in silence.

Once out of the car in the fashion district, he followed three feet behind me. But good Lord was he tall compared to when we’d last met. What worried me was the obviously hindering limp he walked with. It was new. All he did was shoot me a cold look as he caught me staring at his foot over my shoulder. Apparently it wasn’t my business what’d happened.

While I knew paparazzi cameras were likely catching me from every street corner, I gave them the satisfaction of waving at them. Made damn sure that they caught my appearance and would be buzzing about it. By the time it made it back to those in charge, their complaints would be too late.

Coming up on my mother’s group of friends, however, I was less than pleased as all eyes turned to me. They blinked like a bunch of wide-eyed owls. Elena stared with equal surprise, not expecting my different appearance.

The only appreciative face in the crowd was Haynesworth. Apparently having tagged along with his mother (and likely to suck up to mine to make her amenable with the idea of us marrying), his eyes raked down my frame with interest. I hadn’t expected him to be here, nor to see him in full dress uniform and armed. What was up with that?

His mother stared at me over her cat eye glasses. “Anna, dear? Did you get a tan?“

“My God, Anna, you look radiant,” Ryan said with exaggerated volume over his mother’s question. He kissed my hand, his eyes meeting mine alluringly. “Like the Fountain of Youth. No wonder Mother’s jealous.”

Gardenia Haynesworth sniffed with indignance at his quip, though not daring to rebuke her baby boy. Her eyes flashed in my direction. “Hardly. Shall we?”

Teagan nodded, adjusting his earpiece. “The store is all clear.”

Elena just stared, eyes squinted with aggravation at me as we headed in. Considering her friends were clearly envious over my appearance, she couldn’t protest like she sorely wanted to.

Much to my amusement, her eyes then traveled over Teagan instead. Apparently she’d forgotten about their prior mishap, especially as her eyes fell to his nether end.

Once inside the store, I did my best to disappear. Usually the women were terrible gossips so I made myself scarce. Teagan shadowed me from a polite distance, never taking his eyes off me. But as I picked up a hanger, I felt another presence sidle up behind me.

“I want to see you in that,” Ryan hissed in my ear, having managed to extricate himself from his mother. Following his gaze, I then spotted a floor length evening dress off to the side.

“Most men would,” I quipped, his breath tickling my neck. The fire engine red, formfitting gown with slits up both legs and a dropped neckline was obscenely suggestive.

He pressed a kiss to my neck. “Have you thought about my offer?”

“Not one way or the other,” I teased, slipping past him.

He caught me by the waist. “Ah, so I’ve yet to tempt you? What do I have to do?” he hissed in my ear, his teeth grazing the lobe. I shivered as he murmured, “Is my mother watching? I can feel her glare from here.”

Seeing Gardenia staring at me with disapproval, I just gulped. That was one thing I hadn’t factored in. If I played into this game, she’d be my potential mother-in-law. “Yes.”

I felt his lips pull into a smirk at my ear. “Wear the dress to dinner with me. I’m going to ask for your size…”

As he breezed past me, his hand lingering over my back, I just sighed. Now he was dressing me?

Catching Teagan’s eye, I was surprised to see them fixed on Haynsworth’s back as he left me. Seeing that I’d caught him glaring, he shot me a forced smile. Then I discovered why. “I see he’s staking claim…”

Turning to Elena as she prowled up behind me, I saw another martini in her hand. She jerked her head in a short nod. “Look, about yesterday…”

Was there remorse about nearly killing me with her lies? I looked away, not willing to rehash the obvious. “You need to stop with the drugs,” I murmured. “For your sake.”

“It should simply be noted that I’m not the one who decided on your diet,” she said crisply, taking a sip of her drink while she eyed my exposed skin. “I don’t care what you weigh or eat.”

Or if I lived apparently. She snorted, taking a sip. “We’re under pressure, Anna. We have our parts to play or else… The rebellion has strained everything on us, including your father’s position …”

Was that a thinly veiled warning? Before I could question her, she’d moved off and back to her friends. But a rebellion? This was news to me. Just what was going on out in the city? I wasn’t allowed access to television or internet, so I was in the dark.

Now I definitely had reason to go to dinner with Haynesworth; if only to interrogate him. As he sidled up to me, he murmured huskily, “It’s waiting for you, plus a few accoutrements to go with it…”

Deciding to oblige only to sate my own curiosity, I went to the dressing room. Less than thrilled to discover that he’d selected undergarments and that he’d already paid for them, I just changed.

Stepping out to go to the floor length mirror at the end of the dressing rooms, I frowned. While the gown was undeniably sexy, it made me feel like a hunk of meat.

Not paying much attention as a dressing room attendant strolled up behind me, I almost jumped as she asked, “Don’t like it?”

“Feel like a whore,” I muttered, turning and groaning at the back view. Mesh plunged right down to right over the small of my back. It seemed that Haynesworth wasn’t just dressing me, but also setting me up to go home with him at the end of the evening.

The woman clucked, leaning against the wall to watch me. “And how does that differ from your usual role, Aiyla? The Hacienda has made you into theirs…”

It was if a cold dose of water trickled down the back of my spine as she used my real name. The one unknown to anyone outside the manor’s walls.

Turning to face her, she didn’t move, though her eyes focused on me with an intensity that left me immobile. Now looking directly at her, I realized my first impression had been wrong. She didn’t work here. Her clothes didn’t quite fit with the employee code and the nametag must’ve been stolen. And I was cornered between her and the exit, seeing there was a blade sheathed at her hip.

The question was how she’d gotten past Teagan with him on guard in front of the dressing rooms. I cursed internally, realizing that my gun was in the stall I’d just vacated, leaving me defenseless.

“You got a reason for insulting me or is this just your way of trying to make friends?” I said, keeping my stance prepared in case she attacked. “You have a name?”

All she did was chuckle, cynically amused as she ignored the question. “The Lynx decided we ought to speak,” she murmured, crossing her legs as she remained against the wall. “We can see you’re not one of the traditional Elites…”

The Lynx? Last I checked, he personally reviled me. On the alert with her impromptu appearance, I merely asked, “And you’re who?”

“A friend of his,” she purred, amber eyes visible beneath the bangs of what I was sure was a black wig. “You see, you’re in a very special position. One that could help us. We need allies.”

I didn’t doubt that considering anyone who opposed the Elite’s regime was hunted mercilessly and executed. “For what?”

“The resistance,” she stated as if it were a no brainer. “We fight back against the corruption and tyranny. The Forge is no better than the Hacienda. The Lynx thinks you’re the one to help our cause. You’re obviously unhappy acting as a puppet for them to manipulate. With us you could become a voice to stop the endless violence. The police are of no help. Crime is rampant.”

That I knew, despite Ryan’s continued denial of there being a crime problem in the city. Still, I crossed my arms. “I think you have the wrong woman, lady. I have no standing to help you with.”

A fierce smile took over her features. “That’s what you think. But we’re willing to meet your price.”

Now I had a price? “That being?”

“We can get you out of the Hacienda… if you join us,” she said, dangling that lure in front of me. “We’ll be waiting when you’re ready.”

That had a very interesting spin to it. The question was how they knew I was dissatisfied with my current life. Nobody inside Elite’s circles would dare let on. There had to be a spy in the ordinance, parroting back information to those in the resistance, whomever they might be.

“And if I’m never ready?” I asked cautiously.

“Then you’ll get what’s coming to you…”

As she backed away and headed into one of the dressing room stalls, I officially lost my temper. Following her to give her a piece of my mind and peering in the stall, the hairs on the back of my neck rose higher. It was deserted. Empty as if she’d never been there in the first place.

All but fleeing from the area since I knew I was exposed, I nearly crashed into Teagan and Haynesworth. They were nose to nose in the entranceway, Teagan snarling, “She’s not a toy to play with. Back off!”

“And if I don’t?!” Haynesworth sneered, jabbing him in the chest.

 “There’s someone in there!” I sputtered out, tripping on the hem of the dress in the process. Teagan caught me as I nearly fell, shunting me back to Haynesworth as he perceived the danger. “Threatened me-“

Not hesitating, he drew his weapon. “Keep her back.”

If Ryan resented being ordered around, he didn’t let on as he shielded me; hands twitching toward his own weapon. I watched as Teagan headed around the corner, gun first.

All I could do was shiver, the sound of silence pervading over our rapid breathing. Blood crashed around in my ears, realizing that I’d been caught severely unaware. If the resistance was looking for my help, then they were likely planning on waging a war. One that I’d likely be a casualty of when they struck… if I didn’t ally myself with them. The question was who the Forge was, the other unknown mentioned party.

After a minute, Teagan called back from beyond our view, “All clear. Signal your security to sweep the premises. There’s a ceiling vent open, so they got in through the air system. Get her out of here!”

As I huffed out in relief that Teagan was safe, Ryan’s expression set into anger, ushering me from the premises before one more word could be uttered.

For now, I was secure. Nevertheless, for the future a new enemy had set its sights on me. The Lynx had made it clear I had a choice to make. One that could cost me my life if I didn’t comply.

On the other end of the spectrum, if I went along with any demands, I’d be murdered for sure. I didn’t doubt for a second that if I went against the hierarchy controlling my father, they’d take me out.

I now had an absolute bullseye painted on my forehead no matter what path I chose. With three opposing sides apparently out there, I was neatly cornered in between them.

“Don’t worry. We’ll keep you safe,” Ryan crooned to me as he helped me into the limo, mistaking my anxiety for the fact that I’d been cornered. He patted my hand as the car started. “Nothing to worry about at all…”

Oh, yes. Nothing at all.

I wanted to scream.



Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel


Things are definitely starting to heat up in Dejado Atrás! Any predictions about Aiyla’s sudden visitor? Or perhaps why her health issues were hidden? And the proposal! You’ll have to wait ’till next week to find out!

Love and hugs to you all, Maggie Lynn

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Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell | Part 5 – Splash Dunk

Hello dear reader! Here’s to hoping that your Friday is going off without a hitch. Without further ado, here’s chapter five of Del Muerta. If you haven’t been reading along every week, here’s a directory of the previous chapters. Otherwise enjoy!

Chapter Five – Splash Dunk

The congratulatory dinner was going swimmingly for those who cared about its success. Father was still raving about the ratings from the TV stations’ broadcasts.

The dance floor oversaw the entire hall, letting me see all the VIPs who turned up for the event. Twenty round tables lay before us, all lit by dim candles. The string quartet in the corner played a mournfully boring tune. Everyone who was somebody (or wanted to be), was here; the height of the social season.

I wanted to gouge all their eyeballs out. Between all the fake laughter and the congratulations over what a ‘glorious event’ it’d been, I was ready to commit a massacre.

Elena was still drugged out of her mind over in the corner. Though this time it was sedatives making her drugged, not the cocaine she’d snorted between commercial breaks.  

I grimaced as I waltzed with Haynesworth, willing my pain to go away. My hands and knees were still throbbing with pain from earlier. Like the games, this dinner was televised. A few pop stars had performed already, doing some elaborate, ritual-like dance numbers that made me even more sick on the inside.

My anger was starting to wear off again.  Now I was just emotionally wrecked. I stared straight ahead as we danced, without seeing what was in front of me. But I blinked as I realized that Haynesworth had spoken to me.

He leaned down and hissed in my ear, seeing that I hadn’t been paying attention. “I said you look marvelous in that color.”

Was it bad that I couldn’t remember what color I was wearing?

Since I was practically tottering along because of my heavily blistered feet, he kept one eye on me. “I wasn’t kidding,” he said, his eyes glinting mischievously. “You look like an angel.“

“A pained angel,” I grumbled, avoiding his eyes as his hand tightened on my waist.

Haynesworth chuckled, reeling me in closer. He knew all eyes were on us and he was quite obviously enjoying that fact. “Relax. You seem tense.”

“You wonder why?” I hissed back, wincing with every step. “My mother is stoned, Father is drunk, and I’m…”

“Stuck sober?” he chuckled, starting to annoy me. He seemed scarcely aware of my pain, continuing with, “But a vision of fashion and the envy of every woman in the room.” When I didn’t reply, he tried to further cheer me by adding, “All the cameras are on you. Smile.”

I did, feeling like it was more of a snarl than anything. Faces whirled by as we waltzed, Haynesworth dipping me to the floor. But that was where my tolerance ended. The boning of the dress dug into my side, making me cringe. He noticed as he righted me, seeing my pained expression. “Something wrong?”

“Just need to get to bed,” I said truthfully, patting his chest and stepping back.

He merely smirked in response. “Care for me to join you?”

All I could do was stare at him, beyond the ability to respond with any emotion. I gave up trying to think of a response and just shrugged. “G’night.”

Heading for the door, I didn’t care who’d try to stop me this time. I needed an out before I fell apart. Fortunately for me, no one tried.

The doormen opened the double doors for me as I headed toward the private area of the hacienda where no one but the family was allowed. In two minutes I was there, beyond the eyes of those at the event.

Finally able to breathe without an audience, I slipped my shoes off and hobbled up the curved staircase. Before I could make it far, I heard a voice call out after me. “Is that squid always like that?”

Turning back wearily, I discovered Kit behind me on the bottom step. He leaned up against the railing with a snicker, clad in an ill-fitting suit. “Yeah, they didn’t expect me to make it, so they lent me this penguin suit last minute. But that slick-ass police guy is as slimy as they come.” He rolled his eyes, hands stuck in his pockets. “Anyone can see you were miserable, yet he dragged you around the dance floor like a ragdoll.“

If it were any other day, I’d have been morbidly amused by his commentary. But for now, I sighed and shifted my shoes to my other hand. “I need to get to bed, Kit.”

He smiled with lopsided sadness. “Sure. I’d planned to ask you to salsa with me but then I saw how pained you were. But we need to talk.“

“I can’t,” I said flatly, turning to go. But I paused, murmuring back to him over my shoulder. “I’m glad you survived.”

Kit nodded, his playful exasperation fading. “Si. But you’re still thinking of those who didn’t. I can see it. Go take care of your feet.”

Before one more word could be said, he headed for the staff stairway. That meant they must’ve been housing the competitors somewhere in house and on premises. I should’ve remembered that they’d done that with the other competitions, but I hadn’t cared enough about it to keep it in mind.

Heading up to my room, I sighed as I made it in the door to my suite. If it were any other evening, I’d be giving my punching bag another round of beating. But after today, all I wanted was a bath to force my muscles to unlock from all the stress. Quickly stripping off my dress, then lingerie which included a full corset, I threw them on the bed. I ran the bath as I let my hair down and removed my makeup.

Once the majority of it was gone, I sank into the enormous whirlpool tub. The water was soothingly warm, though my scrapes stung. Giving in to the urge, I ducked under the surface and held my breath. Hopefully it’d permeate the hairspray.

Surfacing, I took in a deep breath and sat up. As I leaned back against the wall of the tub, I had a near heart attack as a voice sounded from next to me.

“You know…” Kit said from his perch on the edge of the tub. I hastily dunked my body below the water in alarm and covered my breasts with my arms. He met my eyes with some humor, continuing, “I think I’m starting to get why you’re so uptight. That corset inside on your bed isn’t meant to enhance. It’s meant to flatten what all designers hate and every man ogles.”

He kept speaking even as I sputtered, looking around wildly to figure out where the hell he’d come from. “How did you get in here?!”

“Same way I got through the maze unscathed,” he said with some smugness, wiggling his eyebrows. “I know you wondered why I chose ropes instead of weapons…”

“You shouldn’t be in here!”

“Probably,” he admitted with a shrug before gesturing back out at the bedroom. “But I came with a peace offering since I saw your poor excuse of a meal earlier. They served me the equivalent of a last supper, anything I wanted before the event, so I asked for Chinese.”

He chuckled, sitting forward over the tub’s edge as I glared at him. “I have a good sampling of leftovers so you can choose what you want. I stuck them all in the microwave before I came down.” Before I could stop him, he seized my hand to inspect the angry, red scrapes on my palm. “Sorry about that. She was stoned, right?”

Knowing better than to answer, I said through my teeth, “Let me get out.”

He got up with a nod, sauntering toward the door. “I’ll be out here. And no worries, chica. I may be unorthodox, but I’m no creepizoid.”

As soon as he was away from the door, I hopped out of the tub and pulled my terrycloth robe on. Not bothering to dry myself and completely outraged that he’d gotten in here, I charged out after him into the main room of the suite.

Kit was perched on my couch munching on an egg roll with about ten boxes of Chinese takeaway in front of him on the table. Somehow in the short time since we’d parted ways downstairs, he’d divested himself of his suit, throw on jeans and a black T-shirt, and carted the food here. The question in my mind was still how. My door remained locked.

“Take your pick,” he said with a full mouth, gesturing at the boxes with a set of chopsticks. “I thought you looked thin last night, but then I saw you in the tub. You’re about twenty pounds too skinny and not by choice.“

He wasn’t wrong. The salad that’d been brought to me earlier was so tiny that I felt hungrier than when I started. I was below a hundred and five pounds. Any more lost and I’d be positively skeletal.

Looking to my balcony, I saw the door ajar with a rope dangling down from above it. There was another balcony above my room on the fourth floor. “So that’s how you got in.”

He only winked. “Same way I got through the maze. I disappeared on the cameras, right?”

I nodded, reluctantly letting him stay just to sate my curiosity. The panic button I kept was three feet away if I needed it.

Kit snickered, digging into one of the boxes. “A month ago one of my buddies offered me to go work a construction gig. It turned out to be the maze being built. Figured out as we built it that I could climb up on the walls. Got the idea watching the stray cats walking along the beams one afternoon.”

He spoke so fast, voice going up and down in pitch with an excitable tone, that I struggled to keep up with it all. He sniggered. “Spent the better part of my early childhood in a circus, so I’m damn good at tightrope walking. Also knew where the construction was the strongest, considering I hammered in most of the nails.”

He shoveled a wad of noodles into his mouth as I sat on the edge of the couch, just watching him. He smiled, this time with humor. “You don’t know what to do with me, do you?”

“I can’t seem to get past your audacity,” I admitted, looking at the open Chinese boxes. He’d helped himself to all of them. I’d wait a few minutes before partaking on one that he’d already chowed down into. Less chance of poison, though I very much doubted that was his aim.

Kit merely shrugged. “I waited until you got in the tub. You got to see me in all my glory ‘n I didn’t take advantage of you in the same state of nature.”

He tossed a plastic fork in my direction as I warily sat on the chair across from him and put my feet up. He laughed merrily, pointing his chopsticks at me. “Besides, I know you were planning on throwing yourself a guilt trip pity party. I’m here as a distraction. You should be thanking me.”

Something told me that Kit was an almighty chatterbox. He talked fast with emotion and a great deal of gusto. For whatever reason, he’d decided we were going to be friends and that was that. For now I’d play along, providing he kept a feasible distance from me.

I peered inside one of the boxes of noodles he’d put down. Lo Mein looked good right about now. I twirled my fork around then took a bite. Oh, yes. Mother would throw a fit if she knew about this. Then as Kit shifted a little closer and abruptly picked up my foot, I squawked, “What’re you-?!”

My objection turned into a sigh as he massaged the bottom of my foot. I looked at him questioningly and he shrugged. “You came to my aid, so I figure I can repay you by taking care of this. They look painful and I hate seeing people in pain around me, so humor me.”

I would if he kept up what he was doing. Despite my better judgement, it felt too good to tell him to stop. He glanced up at me, continuing, “Whoever orders your shoes doesn’t care altogether much about your comfort.”

That I definitely agreed with. He smiled wider, seeing I was eating. “Yeah, you’re not a rice cake kind of a girl. So tell me of yourself, chica. I’m amazed you’ve kept any muscle on with the way you eat. I’ll bet the punching bag back there has borne the brunt of your aggravation.”

So he’d noticed it. “I box.”

“Box?” he repeated, seeming to test the idea out in his mind. Then he nodded. “I can fight, too. Grew up in the rough end of town. But you move with grace, so I’ll bet you were a dancer, too.”

Man, did he speak fast. And he was observant. I took another bite before conceding, “Rhythmic gymnastics. Once I graduated, I wasn’t allowed to keep competing.”

He picked up my other foot to rub it. “You really don’t have much say in anything, do you?”

That left me pausing, catching his eyes and then looking away. “If you get caught in here, you’re going to be in trouble.”

“You’re not going to rat me out so why worry?” he said.

“Oh, won’t I?”

“No, querida,” he said with something akin to triumph. “Who else will bring your takeout every night that I’m here?”

That made my amusement fade fast. “Providing you live, that is.”

“I will,” he said confidently. “God didn’t create something He’d give up on in me.”

Switching tactics, I said pointedly, “Does your tia know you’re here?”

His expression flickered guiltily. “Eh, no. We don’t own a TV, so she won’t know until I go home. Alvin stayed with her today.”

I choked on my noodles and his triumphant grin came back. “Sending him to school over a juice box. When he told me, that was the final straw. I had to come back. You’re a keeper.”

So he knew Alvin? Did that meant Kit’s tia was Alvin’s as well? She ran the orphanage. But something was still off with Kit’s story. Way off. My eyes narrowed. “You’re here for another reason. Don’t feed me that line.“

“Believe what you want, Aiyla. You’ll come around.” I cut off my protest as he hit a particularly nice spot on my foot. He chuckled. “Feels good, eh? I give good neck rubs, too. You wait ‘n see.”

That made me scowl. He seemed to get a bang out of my reactions, continuing to chuckle as he said, “Yeah, I know. You’re waiting for an excuse to kick me out. But I’m being so nice you can’t complain.”

I said nothing for a minute, letting him massage my foot. But he kept talking. “Or is it usually Haynesworth up here with you, catering to your every need? He’s no idiot.”

He just laughed as I yanked my foot away after hearing the innuendo. “He wishes,” I sniffed, starting to get annoyed again.

Kit leaned over, his eyes full of devious intentions. “Interesting. With the way he’s been talking, one would think he tucks himself in your bed every night. Should I worry about him dropping by unannounced?”

 “Worried about crowd control?” I parried with a forbidding edge.

“No. You don’t seem the type to be parading men in and out of here. You don’t really say much,” he continued, pausing in his babbling. “Is that a choice or a force of habit? You certainly had a way with words this morning, practically foaming at the mouth over my reappearance. Gato got your tongue?”

Boy, did he have nerve. I sat back. “I find listening a lot more telling.”

“Why do they call you Anna?” he asked, managing to ask the wrong question again. “Your real name is nice and you look better without all the war paint they put on your face.”

Now he was venturing into territory I wasn’t comfortable with. “It’s supposed to put citizens at ease. Make me seem like one of them with a more socially acceptable name.”

He snorted derisively, rolling his eyes. “If they want to appeal, they should stop doing you up as a… Well, I’ll bite the bullet.” He looked me dead in the eye. “You come across as a stuck-up snob. Then again, now knowing what they make you wear, I’m guessing the ‘snob’ expression is actually one of pain. Between your shoes and flattening contraptions-“

Okay. That was it. I’d officially reached my limit. Mr. Chatterbox was starting to give me a headache. ”Look, I need to get some sleep.”

“I’ll shut up,” he said abruptly, changing his tune. “Maybe I should ask what you like to eat besides Chinese so I can request it tomorrow evening. Italian maybe?”

“Nothing with garlic,” I said flatly. “Mother will notice.”

He just stared at me. “She gives you the sniff test? Gee, mi Auntie is strict, but at least she’s sweet.“

“Are you always this much of a chatterbox?”

Adorably enough, he giggled unrepentantly. “Si. That’s not a turn off, is it? I can’t help myself. Been that way since I was little. Whatever I think comes out of my mouth. I’m nothing but honest since I don’t have time to come up with lies.”

He stopped for a few seconds, regarding me shrewdly before pointing at me as if something was dawning on him. “So that’s it. You’re used to the political horse shi-“ He stopped, editing himself. “BS. So used to the BS that you’re on overload with me.” He clapped his hands together. “Yes. You’re quiet, censoring everything you say. It’s like verbal boxing, always on the defense-“

“Kit…“

“And when you had whiskey last night, your defenses came down,” he continued while ignoring me, looking up at the ceiling while he thought about it.

So I decided to try a different handle. “Joe…“

“Oh, don’t tell me I have to get you drunk to open up to me again,” he said with all seriousness, looking at me.

Biting back my aggravation, I said calmly, “Mr. Arenciana, I’ve had a very trying day and my patience is at an all-time low. I want-“

“Yes, what is it you want?” he interrupted pointedly, going for a new angle. He leaned toward me, eyes daring me to reply. “I’ll bet you’ve never been allowed to think about that. That’s your problem. You know exactly what you want, but are trapped and cannot attain it. I – oop.” Kit cut off with an embarrassed grimace as he saw my expression close off. “I crossed a line, yes?”

I stood in one fluid motion, standing over him. “You want to know what I want?!”

“Considering your reaction, not really. But I get the point,” he said hastily, catapulting over the back of the couch and darting to the balcony next to the rope. He bowed to me facetiously. “Until tomorrow, señorita. I shall ponder your garlic-free meal.” He winked. “You’ll miss me.”

Before I could say one more word, he gave the rope a yank and it quickly pulled him up. As I went over to the balcony, I looked up and saw him vanish over the railing above mine. So he was staying above me?

To my surprise, a white rose was then tossed down to my feet. “Adios, chica. Hasta manana.

 As he went inside, I stooped down to pick up the rose. I sniffed it, finding it fragrant unlike all the sterilized roses my father kept in the house. I smiled at the gift, stroking the soft petals.

Looking up as I heard a chuckle from above, I discovered Kit still watching me. I immediately scowled and he laughed, going inside for real this time. The sound of a door shutting confirmed it.

Stepping back and closing my own door, I wiggled my toes against the cold floor. Whether I liked him or not, he certainly did a good job on my feet. The quiet now pervading over my room wasn’t nearly as preferable as I’d thought it would be.

Sighing and confused about how to interpret his ‘affections’, or whatever Kit’s real aims were, I headed to bed.

But first I placed the rose in a cup with water, letting it live for another day.


Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

That’s it for this week’s chapter! What’s your take on the budding relationship between Kit and Aiyla? And where has the illustrious Lynx gotten to? Comment any predictions you have ’cause I love to hear from you guys!

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